Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Thursday said Prime Minister Imran Khan’s initiative for debt relief has benefited Pakistan as well as the developing world that is grappling to deal with the effects of the pandemic.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, the foreign minister explained that the developing world had two major problems.
“The developing world lacks fiscal space and a proper health system. Therefore, the most appropriate response that other countries can give at the moment is granting debt relief,” he said.
On April 12, Imran had appealed to the leaders of rich countries, the UN secretary general and heads of financial institutions to give debt relief to developing countries such as Pakistan so that they could combat Covid-19.
In a video message to the international community broadcast by TV channels, the prime minister had highlighted the difficulties being faced by developing countries — particularly those burdened by heavy debt — in handling the situation.
My appeal to the international community, the UNSG & international financial institutions to respond positively to the dilemma confronting developing countries in the face of the COVID19 pandemic. #Global_Initiative_Debt_Relief pic.twitter.com/EfydRhfZhc
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) April 12, 2020
Following the prime minister’s appeal, G20 announced that Pakistan was included in a group of 72 countries eligible for debt relief on all principal and interest payments to official bilateral creditors.
According to the details, the suspension period for debt relief will start from May 1 and continue till Dec 1, 2020.
All debt service falling due in this period will be packaged into a new loan on which the payments will not start until June 2022. Then it will be paid over the subsequent three years. A standardised term sheet has been made for all the payments clubbed under the relief plan.
In today’s press conference, Qureshi lauded the premier for taking the initiative despite the risks associated with it, adding that a clearer picture regarding the debt relief will emerge after more details are released.
He went on to say that this is the fourth global initiative that Imran had spearheaded during his short term as prime minister.
“His drive against climate change on global forums, his campaign against eliminating Islamophobia, action against corrupt and illicit financial flows, and now his initiative against debt relief.
“In less than two years, the prime minister has taken on four global causes and the Foreign Office has played its part in helping realise them,” he said.
“Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh has said that we need to wait in order to gauge the impact of the debt relief. However, I can say this that the impact will be significant,” he said.
Commenting on the repatriation of Pakistani nationals stranded abroad, the foreign minister said the Foreign Office was working round the clock on the issue.
He explained that the FO had established a crisis management centre which is working 24/7. “Our biggest challenge in repatriating nationals is our capacity for testing and quarantining.”
He said that in the first week roughly 2,000 nationals were being brought back.
“However, from April 20, we will increase our capacity to 7,000. We had to convince the provinces to allow their airports to open, and we had to ensure testing and quarantine facilities.”
The foreign minister added that he was aware of the difficulties being faced by nationals abroad, some of whom were unemployed while the visas of others had expired.
“We have told stranded nationals to get in touch with the embassies,” he said, adding that the FO was working on the matter constantly.
Questioned about the United States’ decision to withdraw funding for the World Health Organisation, Qureshi said: “It is my personal view, but I think they should review it.
“This is a time for us to unite and join our heads together. The WHO has a lot of responsibilities at the moment. Cutting off their funding will only add to their burden,” he said.
PM listens to Murad
Commenting on the back and forth between the Centre and the Sindh government, Qureshi said the first person PM Imran listened to during meetings of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) was Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah.
He said the federal government did not want to “bicker”, adding that he believed the Sindh government was working with clear intentions.