FM says Pakistan in midst of COVID’s ‘aggressive third wave’, urges greater int’l solidarity

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Tuesday said Pakistan was in the midst of a “more aggressive third wave” with higher positivity rate and called for greater international solidarity to overcome the aftermath of pandemic.

“The crisis is far from over…. We need the right mix of national actions, regional collaboration, and multilateral cooperation,” he said in his address at the Six-country Foreign Ministers’ Video Conference on COVID-19.

The conference hosted by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China was joined by the Ministers of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The conference focused on joint response to COVID-19, international and regional cooperation on epidemic response and the post-COVID economic recovery. Qureshi said the government of Pakistan was being compelled to enforce “smart lockdowns” in virus hotspots as the vulnerable population was again at risk.

He said though all countries wanted to reinvigorate their economies and build back better, adding that such fiscal space and liquidity could not be done in isolation. He said Pakistan welcomed intensified cooperation between China and South Asian countries in these areas, which he said was consistent with the socio-economic developmental priorities of Pakistan’s government.

He said Pakistan supported the three concrete proposals put forward by China for regional cooperation with the participation of the participating countries. Qureshi said a China-South Asia Emergency Supplies Reserve would help all participating countries to better respond to health emergencies and natural disasters in the future.

“Our countries are vulnerable to climatic changes and natural disasters…The pooling of our resources and expertise would go a long way in timely delivery of assistance to affected areas,” he said. He mentioned that a China-South Asia Poverty Alleviation Cooperative Development Center would provide the opportunity to learn from China’s remarkable accomplishment in eradicating extreme poverty from the country.

He said Pakistan remained ready to contribute to this initiative by sharing its own policies and interventions for poverty reduction. Through the China-South Asia E-Commerce Cooperation Forum on Poverty Alleviation in Rural Areas, he said, the countries could benefit from emulating China’s achievements in using e-commerce to directly connect farmers with the agricultural products’ markets.

Qureshi said Pakistan and China had been closely collaborating since the outbreak of COVID-19 as the latter extended valuable support to countries all across the globe to combat the pandemic. “We thank China for the generous assistance provided to Pakistan, including vaccines provided as gift and on commercial basis,” he said, mentioning State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi for his personal role in helping Pakistan effectively fight the pandemic.

The foreign minister welcomed President Xi Jinping’s declaration of making COVID-19 vaccine a ‘global public good’ and emphasized to ensure equitable and affordable supply of vaccine to all. He called the need to dispel notions of stigmatization and insinuations on the origin of the virus by upholding multilateralism and extending full support to WHO’s science-based work and reject its politicization. He said Pakistan’s people-centric response to COVID-19 has all along been aimed at saving lives, securing livelihoods, and stimulating the economy.

As the pandemic was hampering on-going economic reforms, he said, Pakistan’s focus had to tilt towards strengthening public health and social protection systems. He mentioned provision of relief package of around 8 billion dollars – 3 percent of the country’s GDP – to support the poor and to keep the economy afloat.

Also, an emergency cash assistance of approximately 1.25 billion dollars was provided through flagship Ehsas programme to the neediest segments of the population,” he added. Qureshi said a phased vaccination campaign was being carried out to ensure that no one was left behind. He said South Asian countries were in dire need of enhanced regional cooperation to both ward off the pandemic, and to lift their people out of poverty.

This forum of neighbouring countries, he said, would provide a platform to do so if they joined heads, pooled expertise, and rise above political considerations. “We can collectivity take the modest first step of joining hands for enhancing mutual cooperation in improving our response to COVID-19 and preparedness for future health emergencies and natural disasters, as well as for alleviating the scourge of poverty,” he said.

He said Pakistan’s vision centred around economic security, was now at the core of its development paradigm and mentioned that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under China’s Belt and Road Initiative was emerging as the regional hub of trade, connectivity and economic activity.

Qureshi lauded the initiative of China for bringing the countries together on the forum and said Pakistan reaffirmed its resolve to further deepen mutual cooperation among six regional neighbouring countries, in pursuance of the common developmental goals. “Our success lies in mutual cooperation and partnerships. Together we can, and together we must,” he said. State Councilor and Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi, Acting Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Mirwais Nab, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh A.K. Abdul Momen, Foreign Minister of Nepal Pradeep Kumar Gyawali and Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka Dinesh Gunawardena spoke on the occasion.