Even as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to aggravate across several parts of the world, Pakistan is fast emerging as the epicentre of the Wuhan virus pandemic in the South Asian region. With 254 cases, Pakistan has been witnessing almost one-third jumps every successive day. Given the pattern of sudden rise in cases, it seems that there is not much time before the situation explodes into a huge epidemic in the Islamic Republic.
This worsens the already tight spot that Pakistan is in. It has been battling one of the deadliest locust attacks in decades and the Islamic Republic even declared national emergency to tackle the insects destroying crops on a large scale in Punjab province, country’s main region for agricultural production. The country is running out of food as he country’s farmers grapple with the worst locust plague in three decades.
Meanwhile, Pakistan PM Imran Khan has gone begging for debt waiver. Taking to Twitter, Pakistan has stated, “Prime Minister @ImranKhanPTI expresses his concern over poverty and hunger as a consequence of the Corona Pandemic. Moreover, he urges the world community to think of some sort of debt-off for vulnerable countries.” He added, “At least that will help us in coping with it.”
Prime Minister @ImranKhanPTI expresses his concern over poverty and hunger as a consequence of the Corona Pandemic. Moreover, he urges the world community to think of some sort of debt-off for vulnerable countries.pic.twitter.com/FG6ZDT5h99
— Prime Minister's Office, Pakistan (@PakPMO) March 17, 2020
Imran Khan has also admitted that Pakistan doesn’t have the medical infrastructure to deal with the Pandemic. He said, “In case we are swamped by it [COVID-19], our health facilities will not be able to cope.” Though he also tried to cover up by alleging that none of the countries in the subcontinent have the infrastructure to deal with the outbreak, including India.
Khan said, “It’s not just Pakistan, I would imagine the same in India, in the subcontinent, in the African countries.”
Pakistan’s economy is currently reeling under exorbitant external debts. Its economy is riddled with a debt crisis, as the total debts of the government have reached 104.3 percent of its total GDP. Last year, external debts of Pakistan stood at $37.359 billion last year, out of this the country owes more than one-third, $14.682 billion to China, whereas it owes $5.765 billion to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
It is clear that Imran Khan wants to use the ongoing Locust-Coronavirus crisis for getting rid off the exorbitant debts by making a major begging pitch before the rest of the world. Pakistan actually wants the rest of the world to believe that it needs funds more than its entire GDP to tackle the pandemic.
This is largely in line with Pakistan’s long term strategy of squeezing out financial assistance packages from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and also securing bailouts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
What Pakistan is virtually demanding is that countries across the world get together to service its debts, most of which it owes to China. Beijing is unlikely to write off the debts that it has extended to Pakistan. Imran Khan wants the rest of the world to pay up to Beijing so that it can supposedly fight the Coronavirus Pandemic. Islamabad is clearly not a position to get what it wants.
Islamabad has been already passing through troubled waters. Now, it seems that the double frontal Locust-Coronavirus assault on Pakistan could be the final straw. While Imran Khan is trying to squeeze out an unlikely waiver- a humongous financial package, Islamabad has officially given in to the latest crisis in the Islamic Republic.