COVID-19 will devastate developing nations: Pakistan PM

Pakistan PM warns new virus may devastate developing nations

Pakistan PM Imran Khan. (Credit: AP file photo)

Pakistan's prime minister said on Monday he fears the new coronavirus will devastate the economies of developing nations, and warned richer economies to prepare to write off the debts of the world's poorer countries.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Imran Khan criticised recent comments by the president of neighbouring Afghanistan, which appeared to reference accusations that Pakistan used militants to further its own goals in years past.

Khan also raised concern over Hindu-Muslim violence in India.


Khan sat down with the AP at his office in the resplendent white-domed government headquarters in the capital of Islamabad. He'd spent much of his day meeting experts about the effect of the coronavirus outbreak in Pakistan, which has confirmed 183 cases so far.

"My worry is poverty and hunger," Khan said. "The world community has to think of some sort of a debt write-off for countries like us, which are very vulnerable, at least that will help us in coping with (the coronavirus)."

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He said that if a serious outbreak happens in Pakistan, he's worried that his government's efforts to lift the ailing economy out of near-collapse would begin an unstoppable slide backward. Exports would fall off, unemployment would soar and an onerous national debt would become an impossible burden. Pakistan secured a USD 6 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund last year.

The global virus pandemic presents the biggest test yet for Khan's populist leadership since he took office in 2018. He's mobilised Pakistan's young people, who are among his largest followers. His critics say he came to power with the help of the country's powerful military, and human rights groups say he's cracked down on critical media outlets.

"It's not just Pakistan. I would imagine the same in India, in the subcontinent, in African countries,” he said, referring to the virus. "If it spreads, we will all have problems with our health facilities. We just don't have that capability. We just don't have the resources."

Most people who get the new coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness it causes experience only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and recover within weeks. But the virus is highly contagious and can be spread by people with no visible symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The pandemic comes just as a peace deal between the United States and the Taliban has given Afghanistan its best chance at ending its endless wars, and bringing US troops home after nearly 19 years.

But the Taliban have a long and complicated relationship with Pakistan's military and intelligence services. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently said the insurgents need to demonstrate their commitment to peace by extricating themselves from Pakistan's influence. Some Afghan officials refer to Pakistan — particularly its military — as the Taliban's “masters.”

Khan called Ghani's comments “disappointing," and said that since taking office, he's worked hard with the US to help cobble together a pace deal in Afghanistan.

"If anything, it should have been appreciation of the way Pakistan has gone about furthering the peace process,” Khan said.

"Pakistan is now a partner in peace for the US, which I always thought Pakistan should have been. Pakistan should never have been used as a sort of hired gun, which is the role which Pakistan was playing,” he explained.

State-wise total number of confirmed cases

He said he has always opposed his country's participation in the “war on terror," calling it a waste of Pakistani lives and money.

Khan said he's also warned about violent strife on the other side of his eastern border, amid the rise Hindu nationalism in India.

"The worst nightmare of the world has happened - an extremist, racial party that believes in racial superiority has taken over a country of more than one billion people and has nuclear weapons,” he said. 

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