China seeks opening of border with Pakistan for medical supplies

Updated 26 Mar 2020


Governor of autonomous Xinjiang region donates Covid-19 equipment for Gilgit-Baltistan. — AFP/File
Governor of autonomous Xinjiang region donates Covid-19 equipment for Gilgit-Baltistan. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: China has asked Pakistan to open the border between the two countries for one day on Friday (March 27) so that medical supplies meant to combat coronavirus could be transported.

The Khunjerab Pass is usually opened on April 1 which marks the end of winter in that part, but due to the global outbreak of Covid-19, the border between Pakistan and China has been closed for an indefinite period.

A letter, written by the Chinese embassy to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with copies to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the government of Gilgit-Baltistan and the Ministry of National Health Services, states that the governor of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China would like to donate a batch of medical materials to GB. According to the letter, the governor has donated 200,000 ordinary face masks, 2,000 N-95 face masks, five ventilators, 2,000 testing kits and 2,000 medical protective clothes mainly used by doctors and paramedics.

The donation is in response to a request made by GB Chief Minister Hafeezur Rehman to the governor of Xinjiang region to combat coronavirus in the province.

“The materials are ready to be delivered to GB through Khunjerab Pass at 9am Pakistan time on March 27. Therefore, it is requested to temporarily open [border] the same date. In this regard, it is also highly recommended that Pakistani side should agree and make due preparation before the date so that all materials could enter Pakistan smoothly,” said the Chinese embassy’s letter.

Governor of autonomous Xinjiang region donates Covid-19 equipment for Gilgit-Baltistan

Gilgit-Baltistan has high percentage of coronavirus cases in the country compared to its population, but the underdeveloped region has a negligible number of operational ventilators and remoteness has led to a severe shortage of medical equipments.

Earlier, NDMA Chairman Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal had said at a media briefing that protection kits and other necessary equipments being donated by China would reach Pakistan on March 28. He added that Pakistan had sought to purchase medical equipments, including ventilators, but these were in short supply around the world and only China had assured that it would provide such items to Pakistan.

The Chinese embassy has also stated that to transport the equipments a truck with necessary number of porters to unload the cargo is needed.

Under a border protocol agreement of 1985, the Khunjerab border crossing remains closed from the end of November to April. Trade and travel activities between the two countries take place through Khunjerab Pass, also known as Sust Dry Port – the only land route between China and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, a GB government official told Dawn that the relevant federal agencies, including the National Logistic Cell, customs department and Federal Intelligence Agency, suggested to the GB government on Wednesday that the supplies might be imported using C-130 cargo aircraft since making arrangements for one day only might be difficult because there was no indication that the Sust border crossing would be opened from April 1.

However, no decision has been so far taken by the federal government in this regard.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2020