ISLAMABAD - Pakistan yesterday said humanity must be the first priority as the world fights the deadly coronavirus. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke to French, Spanish and Bangladeshi counterparts to discuss the pandemic that has infected and killed people across the world. He called for joint efforts to save the humanity.

In his telephonic conversation with his French counterpart, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Qureshi held detailed discussions on the COVID-19 pandemic as well as ways to enhance cooperation to combat the spread of the disease. Expressing deep concern over the loss of precious lives, Foreign Minister Qureshi lauded the steps being taken by the French authorities to contain the virus, and thanked the Foreign Minister for looking after 13 Pakistanis affected in France.

He also briefed Foreign Minister Le Drian about the measures underway in Pakistan to contain the outbreak. Foreign Minister Qureshi informed that the number of affected people in Pakistan due to COVID-19 was increasing. COVID-19 had spread to almost all countries of the world, and the situation demanded a coordinated approach by the international community to combat its spread.

In view of the situation in Iran, Foreign Minister Qureshi underscored the need for immediate lifting of sanctions and extending humanitarian assistance to enable Iranian authorities to save precious human lives. He also expressed deep concern over the continuing communication and movement lockdown in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir which was depriving 8 million Kashmiris of critical information and essential medical supplies needed to effectively contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Foreign Minister Qureshi also expressed concern over the fragile state of financial systems of the developing world. To allow developing countries to cope with the crisis, and mitigate the economic fallout, he underlined the Prime Minister’s call for debt restructuring, and sought France’s support and understanding, as an important member of the EU, the G-7, and the UN Security Council, on these issues.  French Foreign Minister agreed with the Foreign Minister’s assessment of the situation in Iran and the need to provide debt relief to developing countries, and expressed his intention to raise the lifting of sanctions on Iran with the IMF, as well as providing debt relief to developing countries at the G-20.

Foreign Minister Qureshi suggested that in view of the situation arising out of the COVID-19, the two sides may held the next round of Bilateral Political Consultations, which was scheduled on 26 March 2020, via video conference. Foreign Minister Le Drian praised Pakistan for expression of solidarity and concurred with the need for enhanced cooperation to tide over the crisis. The two Foreign Ministers agreed to stay in contact.

Earlier, Qureshi held a telephone conversation with his Spanish counterpart, Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzales Laya, to discuss matters related to the Covid-19 outbreak. Foreign Minister Qureshi conveyed deep condolences over the loss of precious lives in Spain. He commended the steps being taken by the Spanish authorities, and in particular, lauded the heroic sacrifices of the Spanish health care workers. He also dilated upon the positive role of the 100,000 strong Pakistani community in Spain in standing in solidarity with their Spanish compatriots during the unprecedented crisis.

Qureshi expressed deep concern over the continuing communication blackout in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir which was depriving 8 million Kashmiris of critical information and essential medical supplies needed to effectively contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Foreign Minister also underscored the need for immediate lifting of sanctions against Iran and extending humanitarian assistance to enable Iranian authorities to save precious human lives. Foreign Minister Qureshi further highlighted the Prime Minister’s call for debt relief for the developing countries to enable them to devote resources to combat the pandemic, and mitigate its serious economic fallout. Thanking the Foreign Minister for the call, Foreign Minister Laya apprised him of the steps being taken by Spain to look after its citizens, including those of Pakistani origin. She appreciated the role being played by the Pakistani community in Spain.

She informed that the situation in Iran was discussed at the EU Foreign Ministers meeting held on 23 March and also mentioned that the issue of debt relief to developing countries could be taken up at appropriate fora. The two Ministers agreed that the best way to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic was to cooperate closely. Foreign Minister Qureshi also held telephone conversation with Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen of Bangladesh on the COVID-19 pandemic. The two Ministers discussed the challenges faced by regional countries in the face of rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and exchanged ideas on ways to combat the threat.

Foreign Minister Qureshi underscored that Pakistan considered SAARC an important platform for regional cooperation.  Reaffirming Pakistan’s abiding commitment to the SAARC process, he reiterated Pakistan’s readiness to host the SAARC Health Ministers’ conference to enhance cooperation among member countries and development partners in health sector with particular focus on COVID-19. He proposed that a video conference could be organized first in view of the prevailing situation. Appreciating Pakistan’s offer, FM Momen conveyed Bangladesh’s readiness to participate in the video conference.

Discussing the need to share resources, it was underlined that SAARC COVID-19 emergency fund should be placed under the Secretary General of SAARC and the modalities for its utilization should be finalized through consultations at the earliest.

Foreign Minister Qureshi suggested that SAARC should evaluate and coordinate on the economic and social disruption caused by COVID-19 and experts from the member countries should commence work in this regard immediately. Expressing concern over the economic challenges faced by the developing countries due to the global pandemic, Foreign Minister Qureshi underscored the need for debt restructuring by developed countries and the international financial institutions so that the available resources could be utilized to deal with the unprecedented global health emergency. Agreeing with the proposal, Foreign Minister Momen underscored the need to raise the issue at the G-77 forum.

Foreign Minister Qureshi underscored that Iran was faced with serious challenges due to COVID-19, which were further aggravated due to the continuing economic sanctions against it. He emphasized the need for immediate lifting of those sanctions, enabling Iranian authorities to utilize their resources for saving precious human lives. Foreign Minister Qureshi assured his Bangladeshi counterpart that all Bangladeshi citizens in Pakistan were being looked after by the Government of Pakistan as its own people. The two Foreign Ministers stressed the need for joint efforts to address the situation. They agreed to work closely to realize collective endeavours for common benefit.