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Why did Pakistan not evacuate its citizens from Corona virus infested Wuhan in China?


The Reasons for Pakistan's reluctance to rescue its citizens from China - $6.56 Billion, maybe more

That was the debt owed officially by Pakistan to China as of June, 2019. Perennially teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, it is unlikely that any of that $6.56.billion would have been paid off by Pakistan to its all weather friend, China. That number would only have increased, one can speculate.

So, how can a financially and economically depleted Pakistan repay the debt it owes its all weather friend? When it comes to international politics, money is not everything. For years, the Chinese have believed that they can buy their way into the developing world and recapture their loyalties from the reigning superpower, the US by exercising the power of the Yuan. Construct highways, rail roads, ports and airports in parts of the world where none exists, either because the reigning governments lack funds or technology or are too corrupt and mired in bureaucracy or because of varying combinations of all of these factors. Pakistan is a key example of such a region. With Pakistan, the Chinese may be coming to a realization that debt payments may need to be extracted in kind, in the form of political favors when the opportunity presents itself.

The outbreak of the Novel Corona virus, also known as the nCoV, is one such crisis where a political favor from a deeply indebted ally has become imperative for China. As news spread of this unknown and potentially life-threatening virus infecting the population of Wuhan, all the global powers and countries from the developed world began evacuating their citizens from China. This panic (but necessary, nonetheless) reaction from the global community has dealt a huge blow to the image of a nation that had been posturing economically and militarily as the next global superpower, waiting in the wings to overtake the USA. Even smaller nations with much less resources like Bangladesh, Philippines and Nepal have not hesitated to withdraw their nationals from China and bring them home.

While the Chinese launched themselves into a disaster recovery and damage control mode, some powerful people in the Chinese government began looking towards Pakistan. If there ever was a time for Pakistan to prove its allegiance to its all weather friend China, now was the time.

The Chinese officials in Beijing through their representatives in Islamabad communicated to Pakistan their most urgent need for solidarity and support. That support was to be made official in the form of the Pakistan government making a public display of their faith in the Chinese rescue and disaster recovery machinery - by not evacuating Pakistani students stranded in Wuhan.

Pakistan dutifully complied, as evidenced in the video below.

Now, a politically correct, face saving way of presenting Pakistan's decision to the world

Pakistan is a sovereign nation. Like any nation exercising its sovereignty, Pakistan's federal government is well within its right to decide whichever way it wants to tread regarding the fate of the Pakistani students stranded in China's Wuhan city in the Hubei province.

What choices does the Imran Khan government have?

Bring the kids home, and

  • risk rubbing their bosom friend China the wrong way, which is cited as the Foreign Ministry's official reason for non-evacuation

  • risk exposing the population of Pakistan to the virus, where (by the admission of Pakistan's envoy to China) there are no facilities to treat the Novel Corona virus.

Leave them to their fate and add more hardship to the already critical situation of the students where

  • they are running out of food,

  • have zero means of travelling out of Wuhan and

  • (as foreigners) have no guaranteed options for medical attention from the Chinese government

  • their families in Pakistan are "on oxygen" counting the minutes and hours as their children and siblings are literally languishing in a precarious state of balance between life and death.

Pakistan’s President offered some spiritual advice on the crisis on his twitter handle.

I am certain the Imran Khan government would have weighed these choices, and contemplated their options, before taking a call.

What caught my attention about the Indian Government's reaction to the same crisis in Wuhan

India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Sunday lauded the Narendra Modi-led government for its efforts in evacuating more than 600 Indians from the corona virus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan and remarked that it understands its responsibility of reaching out to the troubled Indians anywhere in the world.

Speaking at the Tamils Association Programme in New Delhi, Jaishankar said that Centre (Federal Government of India) in the past five years has developed a system where "any Indian in trouble anywhere in the world" is reached out to and looked after.

"I can say with great pride that under this government, we have developed a system by which any Indian in trouble, anywhere in the world, we look after them. We are there for them. People today go out with confidence that if something will happen, their government will be there to back them," Jaishankar said.

"Even today, for example, many of our students were there in the Chinese city of Wuhan. We have worked really hard and brought them back," he added. "Today this feeling is there: (They are) our people, (and) our responsibility. We will take care of our people."

As many as 647 Indians have been rescued from Wuhan. The Indians, along with 7 Maldivians, were brought back on special Air India flights.

Why Maldivians?

S Jaishankar explained “This is in keeping with our neighbors first policy”.

Edit 1:

In my writeup, I have perhaps been a little too subtle about my criticism and my praise for 2 nations that are also neighbors. Comments from readers indicate their confusion between - "What's wrong with Pakistan not evacuating its students from Wuhan?" and "India does not realize what a blunder it has committed by bringing home the nCoV virus infected students from Wuhan".

So, let me simplify the comparison through a parable that will clear the dilemma to help bring some understanding on the moral issues involved.

A Tale of 2 Families

There were 2 families in a small town. Each had 2 sons. The elder son from each family went to study in the same university in a distant country. One day, a plague hit that foreign country and started spreading in the very city where the university was located. The 2 sons called home and asked for help in returning.

The father from the first family denied any help, and asked his son to stay put till the plague subsided. He was concerned that bringing his son back home would endanger the rest of the family and the community. Moreover, his deeply religious upbringing taught him that life and death are in the hands of the Supreme Power, and man has no business interfering in His grand plan for humans.

The father from the second family pulled all strings he could to get his son safely back home. His friends and neighbors chided him for his hasty decision. They reminded him that if the plague spreads in his neighborhood, it would be from his son, and he as the family head would be held responsible. The man replied - "As a family and society, if we let our own die alone, uncared for, away from loved ones in a distant, foreign land, just when they need us the most… then will we really have a life worth living thereafter? Together, we will face whatever challenge the future tosses our way."

One of the families was from India, the other from Pakistan.

I forget which one was where.

Edit 2:

A number of readers have commented that the Pakistan government has done the right thing in the interest of not having adequate facilities to “quarantine” evacuees from Wuhan.

Well… think this through.

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