Islamabad: Pakistan along with China, Nepal and Afghanistan agreed to bolster cooperation against the pandemic and discussed ways to revive and strengthen the economy in the post-COVID world.
The first ever quadrilateral meeting of foreign ministers from Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan was hosted by China. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who chaired the video-conference said the four countries should strengthen their connections for regional peace and called for collaboration to prevent the cross-border spread of the virus.
Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Khusro Bakhtyar represented Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the meeting attended by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Afghanistan’s acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Haneef Atmar and Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali.
“Pakistan is ready to both enhance cooperation in combating COVID-19 and in post-pandemic economic recovery with the participating countries,” Minister Bakhtyar said. To build a strong and effective mechanism for joint prevention and control of the coronavirus, he called for pragmatic steps for the economic revival of pandemic-stricken countries. He suggested that the COVID-19 vaccine could be declared a ‘global public good’ as and when it becomes available.
Chinese FM said that the four countries should reject politicisation or stigmatisation of the virus and called for efforts to “strengthen coordination in anti-epidemic prevention and control and promote cooperation in vaccine research, as well as economic recovery.”
Health Silk Road
Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan ministers expressed desire to deepen cooperation with China to fight COVID-19 and also to ensure the flow of trade and transport corridors, facilitate people-to-people exchanges and trade connection, and build a “Health Silk Road” to improve healthcare infrastructure and encourage an exchange of medical goods and practices during and after the pandemic.
Minister Bakhtyar also called for “allowing access of international health experts and immediately extending medical help to the Kashmiris” in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Efforts for regional growth
The foreign ministers also discussed ways to expand new areas of digital cooperation and improve connections with the resumption of new projects. It was noted that more efforts are needed to explore means to synergize the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network for mutual benefit and to safeguard the common interests of the countries. Pakistani minister emphasized that CPEC, a flagship project of BRI, could play an important role in boosting regional growth and recovery in the post-COVID-19 period.
Pakistan’s focus on both saving lives and livelihoods
Pakistan is successfully confronting the outbreak of COVID-19 and taking all possible measures to strengthen the existing health system. “The primary focus remained on both saving lives and securing livelihoods,” Pakistani official said. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan launched several relief initiatives to safeguard the livelihoods including Pakistan Preparedness and Response Plan (PPRP) of worth $595 million, US$8 billion relief package for the most vulnerable people, Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program as well as ‘Global Initiative on Debt Relief’ for developing countries to overcome economic losses due to COVID-19.
In his video-message for the conference, Foreign Minister Qureshi lauded the joint initiative of the four countries in response to the pandemic. “The global community needs unity, solidarity and multilateral cooperation to fight COVID-19 that knew no boundaries, no religion and no ethnicity” he said.