Islamabad slams Delhi’s response on PM gesture


By Asghar Ali Mubarak

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad expressed regret on Friday at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs’ (MEA) response to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer to share Pakistan’s experience on mitigating the economic impact of the coronavirus on low-income groups.
Citing a report that found nearly a third of all Indian households would not be able to sustain themselves beyond a week without assistance, PM Imran offered on Thursday to share the workings of the Ehsaas programme to help the neighbouring country disburse cash to those affected.
Later the same day, however, in a statement issued by India’s MEA, India snubbed PM Imran’s offer, reported the Hindustan Times. “Pakistan would do well to recall that they have a debt problem which covers 90% of their GDP. As far as India goes, our stimulus package is as large as the GDP of Pakistan,” said MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava, rejecting the offer. The Foreign Office (FO) regretted “negative remarks by the MEA spokesperson regarding a goodwill suggestion by the prime minister to share Pakistan’s successful experience in ameliorating the impact of Covid-19 on the poorest sections of the society,” in a statement issued on Friday.
“Remarks by the MEA spokesperson reflect an unprofessional attempt at point-scoring over a serious issue that involves the lives of millions of poor people in the subcontinent, worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic,” read Islamabad’s response.
The FO reminded that PM Imran’s suggestion was in light of a study carried out by experts of the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago and the Mumbai-based Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, which highlighted the impact of the coronavirus-prompted lockdown in India.
The study’s findings showed that 84 per cent of Indian households reported a drop in income since a lockdown was imposed in India in March. A third of those surveyed said they would run out of financial resources after one week.
Islamabad emphasised the effectiveness of direct cash transfers to impacted families and reminded that international agencies had lauded Pakistan’s Ehsaas programme through which Rs120 billion are being disbursed among beneficiaries, with millions of families receiving Rs12,000 each.
“The prime minister’s offer at this challenging time was in consonance with the initiative for sharing national experiences among South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member countries in dealing with the impact of Covid-19. If that intent was serious, then the MEA’s response to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s suggestion is inconsistent with the stated position of their own leadership,” stated the FO. India on its part, has announced three rounds of stimulus programmes amounting to nearly Rs21 trillion ($266 billion), to assist businesses and individuals impacted in its country. Islamabad stressed that the global pandemic was a challenge being faced across the globe. It demands collaboration among countries and calls for “rising above petty-point scoring”.
Even amid the pandemic, relations have been hostile between the two countries, and their respective troops regularly exchange fire across the disputed boundary of Kashmir.
At the same time, both the countries have also engaged in coordinated efforts to facilitate their respective citizens stranded on either side during the lockdown, with the Wagah Border opening especially to facilitate repatriation.