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Daily Briefs


Photo : Dawn

23 May 2020, Saturday, Vol 1, No.23

Pakistan's response to the US criticism on China and the CPEC, COVID Forecast & the Sugar Commission



Pakistan responds to Alice Wells; Forecast on COVID casualties for Pakistan; Sugar Commission Report

PR Daily Brief | PR Team

In Focus

Pakistan responds to the US criticism on China and the CPEC
On 22 May, Pakistan's Foreign Office (FO) said that CPEC was "contributing positively and transparently to Pakistan's national development" and project-execution related matters were bilaterally addressed through existing mechanisms by the "All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partners". FO said CPEC helped Pakistan develop an industrial base and infrastructure, create employment and tackle energy shortages.

FO's statement was a response to senior US diplomat Ambassador Alice Wells criticism of China's BRI and its flagship CPEC during a media briefing. Saying CPEC was worrisome due to the "lack of transparency" and "unfair" profit share guaranteed to the Chinese firms, Wells urged China to offer "transparent relief from BRI's predatory loans that countries are suffering from to emerge on stable footing". Although FO's statement did not mention being a rejoinder to the criticism, it clarified that Pakistan's CPEC-related public debt constituted less than 10 per cent of the total national debt burden; said US claims in this regard were "contrary to facts"; and said the Sino-Pak bilateral relationship was "based on deep mutual trust and understanding". (“FO defends CPEC after Alice Wells' criticism”, Dawn, 23 May 2020)

Previously, in November 2019, Wells had warned Pakistan that CPEC would bulge Islamabad's stifling debt burden, flame corruption and oust profits and employment to the Chinese. (“Blacklisted firms got CPEC project contracts, says Wells,” Dawn, 22 January 2020,) In January 2020, Wells stated that firms blacklisted by the World Bank had been awarded CPEC contracts. The Ambassador also pitted Chinese financing against US grants and cautioned Islamabad of unfavourable long-term effects.

Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in Islamabad called Ambassador Wells' remarks "irresponsible" and another "doomed attempt to defame Sino-Pak relations". The embassy said that CPEC had created over 75,000 jobs in Pakistan and brought in 25 million dollars in FDI, making China the main FDI source since 2015 for Pakistan. The statement said that Chinese loans had "no strings attached" and that Pakistan would never be forced to repay debt. Further, the embassy criticized USA's "cold war and zero-sum mentality" and said China does not need "a teacher like the US". (“Alice Wells' remarks another doomed attempt to defame Sino-Pak relations: Chinese embassy,” Dawn, 21 May 2020)

Previously in November 2019, China's Ambassador Yao had issued verbal attacks on US foreign policy, other diplomats accused US of controlling the IMF and not providing debt relief to Pakistan; and Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said Wells "fabricated (the) 'debt issue'" with "malicious calculations" to disrupt CPEC and Sino-Pak relations. (Adnan Aamir, “Pakistan and CPEC Are Drawn Into the U.S.-China Rivalry,” The Jamestown Foundation China Brief Volume: 20 Issue: 1, 17 January 2020)

Pakistan has been put in a tight spot. However, Pakistani officials have been careful not to directly criticize US and have used measured statements to stay out of the Sino-US rivalry. ("FO defends CPEC after Alice Wells' criticism", Dawn, 23 May 2020)

Also read:
China condemns US envoy Alice Wells’ remarks on CPEC,” Daily Times, 22 May 2020,

Ease burden of 'unfair, predatory' lending on Pakistan: US to China,” The Economic Times, 21 May 2020,
 

The number of Covid-19 deaths in Pakistan would have been as high as 856,528 
Abid Suleri, the Director of SDPI says drawing parallels with other European and Western countries to relax the lockdown (in the wake of a WHO warning that the virus may never disappear) will not help Pakistan, a country with half the population of Europe and 1.6 per cent it's GDP, as Pakistan cannot allocate comparable resources for healthcare and since Pakistanis have been flocking together unmasked and ungloved while the government expects them to practice voluntary social distancing. He draws certain points.

First, medical experts argue that rationalization of balancing the lockdown and the economy depends on the stage of the pandemic in the particular country. Pakistan's Covid deaths might be far below those in the US and Europe, however testing is much lesser in Pakistan and new infections are surging. 

Second, Abid Suleri argues that scaling up on PPEs, masks and ventillators cannot rectify Pakistan's health sector's weak and fragmented "ill-managed governance structures"; and that the country's failings are due to a shortage of means and not the absence of will. He commended the government's cash disbursement schemes and SOPs for businesses affected by the pandemic.

Third, inequalities and societal hierarchies across the nation's socio-economic spectrum makes an extended lockdown difficult. The lower classes such as daily-wage labourers and street-vendors cannot afford self-isolation as it will result in poverty and hunger. Pakistan's economy cannot handle a complete shutdown, but markets and religious gatherings must not surge the contagion to unmanageable limits.

Fourth, he criticizes the ambiguous and contradictory statements from the federal and provincial governments regarding the seriousness of the issue that have caused confusion, total disregard and public flouting of social distancing.

Last, he says lockdown relaxations with no cautions will cause a national Covid catastrophe. Societal sectors must realize individual and collective responsibilities and follow social distancing. A Sustainable Development Policy Institute study, using China's 'infection fatality rate' as benchmark, projected 856,528 Covid-19 deaths in Pakistan in the absence of social distancing; with a moderate lockdown 428,264 Pakistani lives can be saved. 

The government must save the dwindling national economy and prevent a Covid-19 contagion of uncontrollable proportions by ensuring public and political consensus and crafting a comprehensive social distancing policy. ("Avoiding a national catastrophe," Dawn, 23 May 2020)
 

What do the Editorials say about the Sugar Commission report?
On 22 May, the forensic report on the FIA led inquiry on sugar was released by the federal government. The report exposed the misconduct by the sugar industry in the form of under-reported sugar sales, sale of commodity to benamidar (unnamed) buyers, double booking, over-invoicing, under-invoiced sale of bagasse and molasses which lead to cost inflation and other corporate frauds which have been detected in the transactions of sugar mills. Further, the report revealed the names of several sugar mills owned by politicians, including those belonging to the ruling PTI and its allies, which were responsible for the sugar crisis.

An editorial in The News International ("Sugar Report," The News International, 23 May 2020) realistically stated "the cat is out of the bag now, though it wasn't much hidden earlier too" proving that the much of the details in the report was nothing new. Further, the editorial remains critical of the PTI-led government who has been unsuccessful in the issue but is watchful to see how the PM takes actions against the culprits and how NAB will address the issue of corruption. 

Similarly, an editorial in the Express Tribune stated "the ball is now in Prime Minister Imran Khan's court." Stressing on the fact that close allies of the PM who have been caught in this scam, key leaders from the ruling PTI and its ally PML-Q were named in the inquiry report. The question that the editorial poses are will the PM stand up for his team or his friends? Further, the editorial emphasizing that it is crucial to look into who profited, and how they will be punished rather than how they profited. ("The bitter sweet tale," The Express Tribune, 23 May 2020)

Image Source: Dawn

In Brief

COVID-19
World Bank approves $500m loan to Pakistan to support SHIFT
Pakistan is set to receive a loan of $500m from WB before 30 June, to cover the impact of the pandemic by facilitating health services and creating jobs for women. According to WB this loan will support the project Securing Human Investments to Foster Transformation (SHIFT). This project aims three policy reforms, quality of health care and vital stats, building workforce, and fortifying the cooperation between national and federal safety net programs. (Khaleeq Kiani, "WB okays $500m loan to help govt fight Covid-19 effect," Dawn, 23 May 2020)

Many people test positive for Covid-19 in Punjab
In the latest report, 1,073 cases have been recorded positive in Punjab. The health department has traced 53,736 people who were in contact with confirmed cases. The article gives data on death cases in other districts such as Sialkot and Sheikhupura where the cases stand increased. ("Record 1,073 test positive for the virus in a day in Punjab," Dawn, 23 May 2020)

INTERNAL
PIA flight PK-8303 crash lands into the homes in Karachi
The flight crash took place by 2:39 pm yesterday where 85 people have died as per reports. According to Air Marshal the pilot had reported that he had lost control of the engine and called it a mayday on the radio with the control tower. It is believed that, only the report from the Safety Investigation Board will unveil the cause of the crash. (Azfar-ul-Ashfaque, "Passenger plane carrying 99 slams into houses near Karachi airport," Dawn, 23 May 2020)

The Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (Palpa) demands a competent board to investigate the plane crash
The association general secretary request to investigate the crash immediately by involving the International Civil Aviation Organisation and International Federation of Airline Pilots. It suggested other associations as it is not confident in the report of the Special Investigation Board in inspecting the incident. The general secretary stated that "We appeal to the PIA management and the government to immediately order an inquiry into the incident and make its report available as soon as possible." ("Pilot's body demands probe into Karachi plane crash," Dawn, 23 May 2020)

An angry analysis asks whether PIA worth it anymore when it is bleeding lives, bleeding billions, and bleeding all reasons to exist?
The opinion article in Dawn expresses the agony of the author on the tragedy of the plane crash killing several beautiful lives who were flying with hopes and dreams during the month of Ramadan. He critically pulls all the authorities is responsible for recruiting the unprofessional and undeserving to cater safety in an irresponsible manner. He questions whether PIA worth it anymore when it is bleeding lives, bleeding billions, and bleeding all reasons to exist? While the standards, expectations, and the final outcomes are crashing down. ("Crash…," Dawn, 23 May 2020) 

PROVINCES 
Sindh government writes a letter against the removal of IRSA members 
Sindh government to write a letter against the removal of the members of the Indus River System Authority as it is not consulted with the province according to law. Sindh Information and Local Government Minister has criticized the federal government's decision as unconstitutional and highlighted the violation of the IRSA act 1992. Sindh warns the federal government to resolve the issue amicably or else it will take the issues to court. ("Sindh to write a letter to Centre to protest against the removal of IRSA members," The News International, 23 May 2020)

EXTERNAL
Attari-Wagah border opens for trade between India and Afghanistan

The Attari-Wagah border is expected to reopen after the Eid-ul-filtr holidays (from 25-27 May) for the trade between India and Afghanistan. On account of coronavirus, The Indian government has suspended cross border trade through the Attari integrated check-post since 13 March. Though the official information on reopening borders is pending, the local customs officers have received instruction from the center to be prepared to resume trade between the countries. ("Trade from Afghanistan to India via Wagah border resumes after Eid?," The News International, 23 May 2020)

The Chinese ambassador comments on Pakistan in a special webinar. China will be a partner to Pakistan, but never its teacher
A webinar was conducted to celebrate the 69 years of diplomatic relations between Pakistan and China. The Chinese Ambassador replied to the comment by US ambassador as "disinformation and baseless allegations and unlike the US, "China will be a partner to Pakistan, but never its teacher. The relations was a combination of arrogance, distortion, and desire for hegemony" ("China will be Pakistan's partner, never its teacher," Dawn, 23 May 2020)

ECONOMY
Ramazan sees a decline in remittances inflow due to COVID-19
The inflow of remittances has significantly declined in the month of Ramazan due to the coronavirus pandemic. As the Pakistanis are losing jobs due to lockdown in their workplace (mostly Middle Eastern countries) and there is also increasing fear of spending, it has made it hard to receive at least 100 million dollars of remittances which use to be 157 million dollars in May. Though Pakistan's exchange rate will be stabilized as it has improved its foreign exchange reserves and more likely to receive debt servicing waiver from G20 countries, says the Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan. ("Remittances fall in Ramazan," Dawn, 23 May 2020)

ON INDIA
India is brutalizing Kashmiris, says Pakistan to UN secretary-general

The Pakistan Foreign Minister told the UN secretary-general that India is using a strict lockdown under the name of the pandemic in the Jammu and Kashmir valley to suppress the popular resistance movement during a telephonic conversation. The minister was quoted to have stated that "India is further brutalizing the Kashmiri population through fake encounters and phony cordon-and-search operations, extrajudicial killings, and other repressive measures". UN secretary-general thanked Pakistan for a timely update on the situation in Kashmir and assured of monitoring the situation closely and considering the briefing for upcoming steps in the region. ("India using corona to brutalize IOJ&K: UN Chief told," The Express Tribune, 23 May 2020)

 


"A Sustainable Development Policy Institute study – that uses China’s ‘infection fatality rate’ as a benchmark – has projected that the number of Covid-19 deaths in Pakistan would have been as high as 856,528 in the absence of any social distancing measures. The same study estimates that even a moderate lockdown, as was being practised in Pakistan, might have saved 428,264 lives. The worrying aspects of these numbers is that more than 400,000 lives could still be lost if social distancing is ignored completely"

Abid Suleri, Head, Sustainable Development Policy Institute
(The News)

 

In Focus and In Brief sections are prepared by Lakshmi V Menon, Abigail Miriam Fernandez, A Padmashree and P Harini Sha.

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