PILDAT Monitor on Inter-Institutional Relations in Pakistan | March 2020



This monitor is meant to identify key developments during the month on Inter-Institutional Relations in Pakistan with selected high-profile international developments included occasionally. For the purpose of this monitor, the institutions are meant to be the Legislature, Judiciary and Executive (Both Civil and the Military).

In this Issue:

  1. 230th Corps Commanders’ Conference
  2. Meeting of the National Security Committee on COVID-19
  3. Special Corps Commanders’ Conference on COVID-19
  4. DG ISPR Press Conference
  5. Army Called in Aid of Civil Power
  6. Courts to Remain Open during COVID-19
  7. Parliamentary Committee on COVID-19
  8. Petitions against Convictions by Military Courts
  9. Chief Justice Peshawar High Court Opposes decision of Judicial Commission of Pakistan
  10. PTM and Protocol in Afghanistan
  11. PM-COAS Interactions
  12. Myanmar Army Quashes Constitutional Amendment to Reduce Number of Seats Reserved for Army in Parliament
  13. Authoritarian Streaks under COVID-19

230th Corps Commanders’ Conference

COAS chairing the 230th Corps Commanders’ Conference at the GHQ

Chairing the 230th Corps Commanders’ Conference at the GHQ on March 12, Chief of Army Staff directed the army to prepare for supporting national effort for controlling COVID-19.

DG ISPR tweeted that the forum discussed emerging situation with regards to COVID-19 and preventive measures taken at Army level. [1]

The forum also reviewed operational preparedness, situation along LoC, geo-strategic environment and national and regional security situation with particular emphasis on Afghanistan Peace Process. In the context of US-Taliban peace deal, Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, said that “The path to regional stability and peace passes through Afghanistan.” He offered that Pakistan is ready to play its part ‘with utmost sincerity’ advising that ‘collaborative approach and patience can help overcome all challenges.’ [2]

Meeting of the National Security Committee on COVID-19

Prime Minister chairing the NSC meeting

On March 13, Prime Minister, Mr. Imran Khan called and chaired a meeting of the National Security Committee to review the status of and Pakistan’s response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

It must be noted that the NSC meeting was convened by the Prime Minister after a gap of 7 months. The NSC had last met on August 17, 2019, prior to the meeting convened in March 2020.

The press release issued by the PMO stated that “it was the first time that an NSC meeting was called on an emerging public health threat.”[3] The meeting was joined by Federal Ministers on Foreign Affairs, Religious Affairs, Aviation, and Education, Advisor for Finance, Special Assistants to Prime Minister on Health, National Security, and Information, all Chief Ministers along with Chief Secretaries, and Provincial Health Ministers, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and the three services chiefs.

According to the PMO, the meeting took stock of the measures put in place in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prime Minister, Mr. Imran Khan was quoted as saying that “There is no need to panic. We are addressing this challenge as one nation by protecting ourselves through precautionary measures.”

The NSC agreed to form and convene a National Coordination Committee for COVID-19 (NCC COVID-19), to be convened by SAPM on Health and to include representation of all provinces and relevant civilian and military stakeholders, to monitor the situation and make necessary decisions on a daily basis. Reportedly, during March 2020, 5 meetings of the NCC COVID-19 were held.

It was also agreed in the NSC meeting that NDMA will be the lead operational agency and will coordinate its efforts with the provincial and district authorities.

The NSC also agreed to close all educational and technical institutions for three weeks, close the entire Western border for two weeks, close Kartarpur Corridor for Pakistanis while Indian pilgrims will be allowed to continue visiting, reinforce screening and administrative measures at Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad airports as the only ones to have outgoing and incoming international flights, reinforce screening and administrative measures at all sea ports and to ban all public gatherings, wedding and cinema halls for two weeks.

The NSC also asked Minister for Religious Affairs and Inter-Faith Harmony and Chairman, Council of Islamic Ideology to reach out to Ulema and all relevant stakeholders to work out the modalities for management of congregational religious services.

The NSC also decided to request Honorable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and High Courts to not schedule cases of civil nature for three weeks, ask Judicial Magistrates and Session Court Judges to visit the concerned jails for three weeks to process remand and bail cases.

Special Corps Commanders’ Conference on COVID-19

Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa

On March 22, a special Corps Commanders’ Conference was convened via video link from respective Corps Headquarters, to review countrywide spread of COVID-19 and to deliberate on Army’s readiness to assist civil administration to contain the pandemic.[4] The meeting was chaired by the Chief of Army Staff at the GHQ.

According to the ISPR press release, the COAS stated that all available troops of Pakistan Army and it’s medical resources across the country have been tasked to be ready to assist activities in concert with civil administration on short notice. “Nothing can defeat a responsible and determined nation. Pakistan Army being part of national effort shall serve and protect the nation as a sacred duty,” he was quoted as saying.

On March 21, the ISPR reported that as a follow up of National Coordination Committee Meeting, the COAS directed the Army for stepping up Army’s assistance to civil administration for containment of COVID-19.

Protecting oneself is foundation for community / nation’s collective protection against pandemic. Every precautionary measure counts. Let’s be a responsible citizen at individual level first and in turn assist authorities for safety and protection at collective level. Every Pakistani must follow guidelines given by the government and health departments to make ongoing national effort a success. Nothing can defeat a responsible and determined nation, as displayed by China. Pakistan Army being part of national effort shall serve and protect the nation as a sacred duty. We shall succeed by being self-disciplined, cooperating, reinforcing each other and thereby synergising various efforts,” said the Army Chief.[5]

On March 17, the ISPR reported that in line with the decisions taken at the National Security Committee meeting held on March 13, all medical facilities of the Armed Forces are operationalised and geared up to meet any eventuality to deal with pandemic. COVID-19 testing labs are established at major military hospitals across the country while central testing lab is established at the Armed Forces institute of Pathology (AFIP), Rawalpindi. In addition, COVID-19 help desks have been established at each military hospital for fast-track handling.[6]

DG ISPR Press Conference

Director General ISPR, Maj. Gen. Babar Iftikhar, addressing a press conference

In a press conference on March 23, Director General ISPR, Maj. Gen. Babar Iftikhar, said that the country needs to get together for a secure Pakistan in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. Under these testing times, only the absolute confidence of the people in the State can help the country get out of this crisis situation. [7]

He said that despite complete and heavy deployment of Pakistan Army on LoC and on Western border, the Chief of Army Staff has directed all available troops, as well as medical resources of the Pakistan Army, to be deployed at different locations to assist in combating spread of COVID-19.

He said that while schools and educational institutions will remain closed, hospitals, grocery and medical stores will remain open. All kinds of congregational and other activities for public gathering are prohibited. Inter-city transport will be open only for food supply. Petrol pumps and markets will be open as per notified timing on certain days. He said that Provincial Governments will issue further guidelines which are to be implemented through assistance of administration.

DG-ISPR stated that similar to border of countries, the real border is the red line between the ‘potential patient’ and the virus. He added that responsibilities exist on individual, social and national level which must not be neglected in any case. Cooperation is more important than mere isolation. He stressed that adopting best practices is strategy. Screening and safe contact at entry points is being ensured which include 12,000 people being screened in past 24 hours. Mechanisms for operating Quarantine camps are being ensured. He stated that people of Pakistan will overcome the problems, issues and challenges. [8]

Army Called in Aid of Civil Power

Rangers on COVID-19 deployment

On March 23, Federal Ministry of Interior issued coronavirus notifications to deploy military in aid of civilian authorities nationwide. The notification issued by the Interior Ministry for Punjab, stated that “The competent authority, in exercise of the powers conferred under Article 245 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan and Section I31-A of CrPC is pleased to authorize deployment of sufficient strength of troops of Pakistan Army in Punjab province depending upon the requirement to be worked out by the provincial government in liaison with the army authorities in connection with the prevailing situation related to the spread of COVID-19 and matters ancillary thereto, subject to laws enforced in Pakistan.” The Interior Ministry issued similar notifications for Sindh, Balochistan, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Kashmir, Islamabad Capital Territory, and Gilgit-Baltistan. [9]

A day earlier, on March 22, Provincial Government of Sindh, followed by Balochistan, had sought the Federal Government’s approval for the deployment of armed forces to aid civil power. [10]

Article 245 of the Constitution, titled as Functions of Armed Forces, says that:

  1. The Armed Forces shall, under the directions of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.
  2. The validity of any direction issued by the Federal Government under clause (1) shall not be called in question in any court.
  3. A High Court shall not exercise any jurisdiction under Article 199 in relation to any area in which the Armed Forces of Pakistan are, for the time being, acting in aid of civil power in pursuance of Article 245.

Provided that this clause shall not be deemed to affect the jurisdiction of the High Court in respect of any proceeding pending immediately before the day on which the Armed Forces start acting in aid of civil power.

  1. Any proceeding in relation to an area referred to in clause (3) instituted on or after the day the Armed Forces start acting in aid of civil power and pending in any High Court shall remain suspended for the period during which the Armed Forces are so acting.

On March 28, the ISPR reported that in aid of civil power under Constitution article 245, Pakistan army troops have been deployed across the country to assist Federal and Provincial administrations in “ensuring enforcement measures for containment of COVID-19 with focus on Public Safety.”[11]

Reportedly, the assistance includes manning and monitoring all points of entries (POE), establishment of joint Check Posts and joint patrolling with other Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), contact tracking and tracing to identify and isolate suspected individuals and assisting in management of quarantine facilities. The press release shared that a total of 182 quarantine facilities have been established across the country. Sharing details of deployment in the press release, the ISPR stated the following:

  • In AJK, troops are deployed to assist in various parts including Kotli, Bhimber, Mirpur, Barnala, Muzafarabbad, Bagh, Kel & Rawalakot.
  • In Balochistan, troops are deployed in 9 districts. Chaman border has been closed and Army troops, doctors and paramedics are assisting civil administration in managing Taftan quarantine facility. Two additional container-based quarantine facility for 600 individuals are being established at Taftan and for 300 individuals at Village Killi Faizu, Chaman, respectively, while tent-based quarantine facility with 805 tents is also being established at Chaman.
  • In Gilgit-Baltistan, Army troops have been deployed in all 10 districts and Pakistan army helicopters flew special sorties through Khunjrab pass for transporting and distribution of medical equipment received from China.
  • In ICT, army troops deployed are part of joint check posts on entry / exit points, joint patrolling and isolation of suspected localities.
  • In KP, troops are deployed in 26 districts while 4 border terminals and inter-provincial boundary are being manned & managed at Drazinda. Troops are also assisting in management of quarantine camps at Drazinda, Gomal University, DI Khan and Postgraduate Paramedic Institutes, Peshawar. In addition, a quarantine facility for 1500 individuals is being established at Landi Kotal & Jamrud.
  • In Punjab, troops have been deployed in 34 districts while they are also Troops assisting in managing DG Khan, Multan, Faisalabad and Lahore Expo Centre quarantine facilities.
  • In Sindh, troops have been deployed in 29 districts. Together with Police and Pakistan Rangers Sindh, troops are deployed at all entry / exit points and patrolling to enforce measures taken for containment of COVID-19 by the Provincial Government, in addition to assistance in management quarantine facilities at Sukkur & Karachi Expo Centre.

Courts to Remain Open during COVID-19

Honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Gulzar Ahmed

In a statement issued on March 24, the Supreme Court has maintained that courts would continue to work during COVID-19 to fulfil constitutional duties and functions for safeguarding the rights of the citizens while following the precautionary measures put in place by the government. [12] The Supreme Court Bar Association and the Pakistan Bar Council had requested the Supreme Court to consider postponement of judicial work in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, has maintained, in keeping with the policy decided in a meeting of the National Judicial (Policy Making) Committee on March 19, that judiciary cannot be closed down and no courts have been closed in Europe despite the situation there due to the pandemic.

Earlier, the Chief Justice had questioned what he termed as ‘inadequate preventive measures’ taken by the federal government to deal with COVID-19 and observed that the epidemic had invaded Pakistan due the incompetence of the Federal government.[13]

In addition to taking precautionary measures and allowing non-essential staff to work from home, the Supreme Court has advised people that unless absolutely necessary they should refrain from coming to the courts since their lawyers could approach the apex court or other courts.

In most countries including India,[14] US,[15] UK,[16] Russia,[17] New Zealand,[18] etc. courts are open to ensure that the principles of open justice continue to be observed, though everywhere they are resorting to hearing the most urgent cases in order to contain the spread of coronavirus and jury trials are mostly suspended. In much of Western Europe, including in Italy, courts are closed. The European Court of Human Rights, however, cancelled its March and April hearings. Courts in Italy are closed and Ireland suspended start of new cases.[19]

Parliamentary Committee on COVID-19

Speaker National Assembly, Honourable Asad Qaiser, MNA

On March 26, a 26-member multi-party Parliamentary Committee on COVID-19 was formed under the chairpersonship of Speaker, National Assembly, [20] with the objective to “inspect, monitor, and supervise everything related to the novel coronavirus, its negative impact on the Pakistani economy, review the implementation of the national action plan for the COVID-19 and compile recommendations to improve the execution.” [21]

Reportedly, the committee may also have to chalk out a strategy for approving annual federal budget without calling a session of the National Assembly and the Senate. In addition, the committee may think of widening its role to perform legislative business, if deems necessary in future. [22]

On March 25, a meeting of the Parliamentary Leaders in the National Assembly and Senate, chaired by the Speaker, was held in the Parliament House and was attended by Federal Ministers, multi-party parliamentary leaders and the Chairman National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). Prime Minister addressed the meeting through video link acknowledging said that the federal government alone could not fight the challenge but it could win the challenge through collective efforts of the nation.

At the meeting, Speaker National Assembly also announced that he will constitute a Sub-Committee to formulate Terms of Reference (ToRs) of the Parliamentary Committee. [23]

Petitions against Convictions by Military Courts

The Peshawar High Court (PHC), which had earlier announced to issue its verdict on 250 petitions challenging the conviction of suspected militants by military courts, on March 10, postponed announcing its decision.

Additional Attorney General Qazi Babar Irshad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Advocate General Shumail Ahmed Butt submitted written statement questioning the high court’s jurisdiction to hear appeals against military court decisions. Citing Article 199 (5) of the Consitution, they said the high court would be violating the Constitution if it announced the verdict. The government’s counsel also argued that a defence ministry’s plea against a similar PHC verdict was being heard by the Supreme Court and sought an adjournment until the top court decides on the matter. However, the two-member bench headed by PHC Chief Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth and comprising Justice Ijaz Anwar noted that the appeals in PHC and the apex court were separate matters. [24]

Meanwhile, on March 11, a Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Mushir Alam and comprising Justice Muneeb Akhtar and Justice Aminuddin Khan, hearing over 70 appeals moved by the Ministry of Defence against the PHC judgement, asked the Ministry of Defence to submit a statement containing details about the sentences awarded by military courts. The Supreme Court bench directed the ministry to provide details such as the date of arrest of a convict, nature of allegations, date of commencement of trial as well as evidence presented before the trial court that led to conviction over terrorism-related charges.

Lawyers representing the convicts of the Military Courts argued before the SC bench that the Ministry of Defence had not attached any record along with its appeal regarding details of the convicts who were charged with terrorism. The bench also ordered Additional Attorney General to provide advance copies of the chart and evidence against an accused to lawyers representing a number of respondents (convicts). [25]

Chief Justice Peshawar High Court Opposes decision of Judicial Commission of Pakistan

Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth, Chief Justice Peshawar High Court

Chief Justice of the Peshawar High Court, Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth, has complained to the Chief Justice of Pakistan, and Chairman of Judicial Commission, on appointment of Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, a senior judge of the Lahore High Court (LHC), as a Supreme Court judge, while maintaining that he, based on his seniority, should be recommended for the appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court.

In a complaint to the CJP, Justice Seth has reportedly warned that the out-of-turn elevations to the Supreme Court would undermine independence of the judiciary, create an anarchic situation within the judiciary by giving birth to an unhealthy competition amongst judges of the high court to achieve coveted positions and also damage the judiciary’s image in the public.

Appointment of Justice Naqvi was finalised by the JCP in its meeting held on March 4 while he was administered oath as a judge of the Supreme Court, filling seat that had become vacant after the retirement of former chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa, on March 16. [26]

Lawyers’ bodies, however, have argued that in appointing judges to the Supreme Court, a combination of competence and seniority must be kept in view. The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) has criticised the complaint by Justice Seth. SCBA President, Syed Qalbe Hassan, has said that principle of seniority alone is not applicable to elevation of a high court judge to the apex court as it is considered a new appointment. Similar elevations to the Supreme Court have been made in the recent past also. If the principle of seniority alone had to be adhered to, as demanded by the PHC CJ, then Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court, Justice Ahmed Ali M. Shaikh, as the senior most judge amongst the judges of the superior judiciary, could have been appointed.

PTM and Protocol in Afghanistan

(From left to right), Mr. Ali Wazir, MNA and (3rd to right), Mr. Mohsin Dawar MNA

Pakistan media reported that on March 09, Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) leaders Mr. Mohsin Dawar, MNA and Mr. Ali Wazir, MNA, who had travelled to Afghanistan to attend the oath-taking ceremony of President Ashraf Ghani, received ‘special protocol’ and were taken by an Afghan National Army helicopter from Pak-Afghan border-crossing to Kabul.

Radio Pakistan alleged that “PTM Leaders are facilitating anti Pakistan forces to destabilise Pakistan and fulfilling vested agenda.” [27] ARY TV reported that the “anti-state agenda of PTM has exposed once again who enjoyed special protocol by Afghanistan’s prime intelligence agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS) during their visit to Kabul.” [28]

Tweeting pictures of his Afghan visit alongside Mr. Mohsin Dawar, MNA, Mr. Ali Wazir, MNA thanked Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for hisspecial invitation o participate in his oath-taking ceremony.” He also thanked “all Afghans for their warm reception and hospitality.” [29]

It must be noted that Afghan government had also invited other political leaders from Pakistan, belonging to Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to attend swearing-in ceremony of President Ghani, including Mr. Aftab Sherpao, Mr. Afrasiab Khattak, Mr. Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Mr. Farhatullah Babar and Mr. Faisal Karim Kundi, to name a few.[30]

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at his breakfast reception on March 11, in conversation with Mr. Aftab Sherpao and Mr. Mahmood Achakzai
Mr. Mohsin Dawar (2nd from left), Mr. Faisal Karim Kundi and Mr. Farhatullah Babar

Before leaving for Afghanistan, the two MNAs were barred from boarding a Kabul-bound flight by the FIA owing to their names being on the Exit Control List (ECL). Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting confirmed the names of both MNAs were on the ECL and stated that they “did not ask permission to go to Afghanistan, though if they seek permission to travel, it can be viewed as per law.” [31] Earlier, MNA Mohsin Dawar had tweeted that the “FIA told us quite explicitly that the military has barred us from leaving the country. This is what elected Pashtun MNAs have to go through in Pakistan. This is the fate of an elected Pashtun representative in Pakistan.” [32]

However, a few hours after they were barred from boarding the plane, the two MNAs were given, what the Ministry of Interior termed, a “one time permission,” “as per the instructions of the Prime Minister Imran Khan,” to travel to Afghanistan. [33]

PM-COAS Interactions

(Lto R) COAS Bajwa, Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan, President Mr. Arif Alvi and Defence Minister, Mr. Pervez Khattak at a ceremony

During March 2020, Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, met on the following occasions:

  1. NSC meeting held on March 13, 2020
  2. Meeting of the National Coordination Committee on COVID-19 (NCC COVID-19), chaired by Prime Minister, which were held on March 14,[34] March 20,[35] March 23,[36] March 26,[37] and March 31 [38]
  3. In the NCC COVID-19 meeting, chaired by Prime Minister on March 16 and March 30, Chief of Army Staff was not present [39] [40]

Myanmar Army Quashes Constitutional Amendment to Reduce Number of Seats Reserved for Army in Parliament

Fourth from left, Aung San Suu Kyi, head of Myanmar government

On March 10, a proposal to reduce the number of seats reserved for the military in the Myanmar Parliament could not be passed as only 404 out of 633 MPs voted for the change, not enough to pass the 75 percent threshold required for the passage of the constitutional amendment. .[41]

International media reported that Myanmar’s military, which holds a quarter of parliamentary seats effectively giving it veto over any legislation, quashed the constitutional amendment proposal in the parliament that sought to reduce the number of parliamentary seats reserved for the military. The rejected amendments would have gradually reduced the number of military MPs over a period of 15 years and abolished a section that names the commander-in-chief of the defence services as the “supreme commander of all armed forces.”

The civilian government under Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) has been fighting for reform of the military-scripted 2008 constitution. In a counter-proposal, the Myanmar military seeks to extend the clause to include any ministerial position, a move that would take away several portfolios held by Suu Kyi.

Authoritarian Streaks under COVID-19

Police in Hungary questioning a citizen

While countries around the globe battle with managing and reversing the spread of COVID-19, aside from global economic and social disparity, authoritarian tendencies, threatening democratic governance, also appear to be on the rise.

In a recent message, the Asia Democracy Network (AND) highlighted that democratic countries such as South Korea and Taiwan, have “displayed that it is possible to manage the virus democratically… where number of infected are plateauing, without extensive lockdowns but through physical distancing, media freedom, transparency, keeping the public informed with accurate and consistent information, and importantly accessible virus testing for all.” [42]

While majority of democratic countries are managing well within their institutional structures by moving parliamentary accountability online, there are also cases of countries which are cracking down on basic citizens’ rights in the name of managing COVID-19.

Thailand Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-Ocha

In Thailand, military-leaning government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has put in place an emergency decree to control the narrative of COVID-19. “Only I, or someone I assign, will be reporting progress of the situation to the public,” he said during a televised address.[43]

Hungary’s Parliament has passed a law giving Prime Minister the right to rule by decree for as long as a state of emergency is in effect.[44]

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu

In Israel, there is unprecedented electronic surveillance of Israeli citizens and a slowdown of court activity that forced the postponement of Netanyahu’s own pending criminal trial on serious corruption charges.[45]

Police patrols in Serbia

In Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic has announced an open-ended state of emergency on March 15, essentially assuming “full supremacy” over decision-making during the crisis, although his constitutional role is only ceremonial. In addition. Parliament has been side-lined, borders shut, a 12-hour police-enforced curfew imposed and people over 65 banned from leaving their homes — some of Europe’s strictest measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.[46]

Legitimate concerns have been expressed around the globe on how, in managing the extraordinary global crisis, extraordinary powers, emergency laws and measures, can lead to abuse, that can hurt democracy and democratic governance.

Such extreme, though emergency measures, such as monitoring citizens, infringement on civil liberties, bypassing elected institutions, or delaying elections, must only be temporary and proportional to dealing with the pandemic. [47]


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