ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said that countries like Pakistan, which are burdened by external debt, should be provided relief in repayment of loans so that they could focus on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Qureshi made this request while talking to his German counterpart Heiko Maas over the phone on Saturday.
Besides the situation of economically fragile countries in the context of the pandemic, the communications blockade and lockdown in India-held Jammu and Kashmir and the crippling sanctions against Iran came under discussion.
He told the German foreign minister that united efforts were needed for dealing with Covid-19 that had emerged as a major challenge for the entire world.
Mr Maas assured Mr Qureshi that he would raise the issues of debt relief for economically struggling countries and the international sanctions against Iran at the upcoming G7 meeting and the European Union Foreign Ministers’ Conference next week.
Mr Qureshi said the situation in India-held Kashmir, which had been under a lockdown imposed by Indian authorities for eight months, was dire.
Mr Qureshi said the lockdown in the Valley had caused shortage of food and medicine aggravating the plight of the Kahsmiris.
Four cases of coronavirus have been reported in the occupied Valley, whereas 3,611 cases are under observation and nearly 2,600 have been quarantined.
Describing the situation in Iran as extremely serious, FM Qureshi told his German counterpart that Iran had been the worst-hit country in the region. Therefore, he said, sanctions on Iran should be lifted immediately so that it could use its own resources to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The German foreign minister said he was deeply concerned about the situation in Iran and assured Mr Qureshi that he would take up the issue at the conference next week.
Meanwhile, in a separate statement, the foreign minister asked the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to remove US sanctions against it (Iran) for aiding its fight against the infectious disease.
Mr Qureshi said: “We have requested the ambassadors of permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to convey the message of Prime Minister Imran Khan to their countries for lifting of sanctions on Iran on humanitarian grounds.
“Economic sanctions against Iran are hampering their efforts to fight coronavirus,” the foreign minister said, adding that Iran was in desperate need of ventilators, medicines, and other medical equipment.
According to Iran’s health ministry, 1,556 people have so far lost lives due to Covid-19 while the number of patients infected by the virus in the country has grown to 20,610.
Iran’s President Rouhani had written a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan and number of other world leaders seeking their help for removal of US sanctions in view of Covid-19 pandemic. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in his conversation with FM Qureshi too had called for ending sanctions.
“Iran is our brotherly Islamic country and our neighbour. We are fully aware of their situation, and we stand with Iran in this difficult time,” he said while expressing solidarity with Iran.
Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2020