ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: The Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday addressed the virtual meeting of SCO Council of Foreign Ministers, which primarily focused on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Video Conference provided an opportunity to express solidarity and develop a united response to the COVID-19 pandemic at the Shanghai Cooperation Council (SCO) level.
The following are remarks by the Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at the Extraordinary Virtual SCO Council of Foreign Ministers Meeting;
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov,
Distinguished Colleagues from SCO Member States,
Honourable Secretary General Vladimir Norov,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The world today is fighting an unforeseen and unknown enemy.
In a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 virus has spread like wild-fire, overwhelming communities and health systems, devouring scarce resources, consuming precious lives, and paralyzing economies and businesses the world over.
Nothing of this scale and magnitude has been witnessed in a century.
Some 4.1 million have been infected and nearly 300,000 have fallen prey.
Within days, the world that we knew and understood went through radical transformation.
As we meet today in the online mode, COVID-19 continues to assault lives and livelihoods, and paralyze civilization.
On this sombre occasion, I wish to offer heartfelt condolences on the on-going losses. Our travails are common, and our grief is shared.
May I also acknowledge with appreciation, the initiative by the Russian Federation to convene this timely meeting.
I am confident that this Video-Conference will galvanize SCO into forging a stronger and more coherent front against the pandemic.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This meeting coincides with the 75th Anniversary of Victory against Fascism, Militarism and Violent Nationalism, and the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.
In the shape of the Pandemic, the UN at 75 faces among the most serious stress tests to its efficacy.
It is a matter of satisfaction that the SCO has, since its inception, upheld the UN Charter, and carried forward the baton of multilateralism.
As home to 40% world population, and a quarter of its GDP, SCO region has all the technological, material, human and financial resources needed to mount a successful effort to surmount the pandemic.
Animated by the Shanghai Spirit of common benefit, mutual trust and mutual respect, SCO can lead the charge in forging a comprehensive regional response commensurate with the challenge.
The People’s Republic of China in particular offers one of the most effective and successful templates in this fight.
Pakistan lauds China’s responsible handling of the crisis at home, and the generous support extended the world over, including Pakistan, to those in need.
Since its first case on 26 February 2020, Pakistan has pursued a carefully calibrated policy of containment.
While expanding our capacity to Test, Trace and Quarantine, Pakistan has been instituting smart lockdowns. A Relief Force of volunteer youth is being raised to support the needy. A financial stimulus package of $ 8 billion has been announced.
Some 12 million families have benefited from our social safety net programme.
Those rendered out of work due to lockdowns and slowing demand, are being re-employed in our ambitious 10 billion tree tsunami project.
Incentives packages have been announced for labour-intensive industries to keep the wheels of the economy running.
To strengthen the resilience of our health system, the Pakistan Preparedness and Response Plan (PPRP) worth $ 595 million has been launched.
At over 30,000 cases and 659 deaths, it is not entirely clear if the situation in Pakistan has peaked.
Although the number of infections is rising, with increased testing, we have not seen explosive rise in cases, and the number of fatalities have remained limited. We realize though that there is no room to let our guards down.
Perhaps graver than the health challenge, is the economic challenge that the developing countries face.
While Pakistan welcomes the debt restructuring measures initiated by the World Bank, IMF and the G20, we feel more will be required.
The Prime Minister’s “Global Initiative on Debt Relief” for developing countries aims at a comprehensive plan of action of debt relief and restructuring to free up resources, shore up economies and promote sustainable growth.
SCO’s role in coordinating our response to collectively confront this challenge will be crucial, going forward.
While we grapple with COVID-19, other challenges to regional security must continue to command our attention.
The US-Taliban Peace Agreement has been a landmark development, that raises the hope of restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan after long decades of war.
It is now for the Afghan leadership to seize the historic opportunity and work out a comprehensive and inclusive settlement.
Through the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group, SCO can play its due role for peace and security at this juncture.
As we observe the 75th Anniversary of Victory against Fascism, Militarism and Violent Nationalism, we must ensure that such xenophobic ideologies, including Islamophobia find no acceptance in today’s world.
We strongly believe that tackling all forms of terrorism and extremism must continue to be a high priority.
At the same time we must not allow anyone to use terrorism related allegations as a political tool to malign any country, race or religion.
We must condemn and hold accountable the perpetrators of State terrorism including against people under illegal occupation.
We welcome the proposed SCO Agreement on Cooperation in Countering Epidemics as well as the MoU between SCO and WHO. We reaffirm Pakistan’s commitment to join the collective endeavours.
To this end, allow me to make the following suggestions:
- Firstly, at a normative level, we must acknowledge the primacy of principles of international law and centrality of the UN and its agencies. In the context of Covid-19, there must be no discrimination against any segment of society on religious, racial or ethnic grounds, nor should any community be stigmatized and targeted.
- Secondly, to share best practices and learn from each other’s experience, there should be frequent and regular interaction among our Ministries of Health.
- Thirdly, we should develop mechanisms for pooling scientific and technical resources for joint research on a vaccine and possible cure for the virus.
- Fourthly, SCO countries should exchange views and perspectives on supporting the economically vulnerable sections of the society. Pakistan’s proposal for the establishment of an SCO Joint Working Group on Poverty Alleviation and Center of Excellence merits consideration.
- Finally, we should enhance further cooperation between our hospitals and laboratories and work on formalizing the SCO Hospital Alliance.
Just as the world triumphed against the forces of violent nationalism 75 years ago, it needs unity and a sense of purpose, to triumph against Covid-19 today.
SCO has the wherewithal to make this happen.
We wish the Russian Presidency every success for the forthcoming Council of Heads of State meeting in Saint Petersburg.
I Thank You