ISLAMABAD – Pakistan has offered to provide essential medical supplies to rival India, which is in the grip of a devastating nationwide coronavirus surge and struggling to meet critical hospital needs, including medical oxygen.
The offer comes amid months of ongoing backchannel talks involving top intelligence officials of the nuclear-armed neighboring countries seeking to reduce tensions and normalize bilateral ties.
“As a gesture of solidarity with the people of India in the wake of the current wave of COVID-19, Pakistan has offered to provide relief support to India,” said a Pakistani foreign ministry statement issued late on Saturday. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The supplies include ventilators, personal protective equipment, digital X-ray machines and other related gear.
There was no immediate response from India.
Pakistan said that authorities of both countries can work out modalities for a quick delivery of the relief items and explore possible ways of further cooperation “to mitigate the challenges posed by the pandemic.”
“This is a very generous and significant offer, not just because it’s offering to provide supplies to its enemy, but because Pakistan itself is facing a rapidly growing COVID surge,” tweeted Michael Kugelman, deputy Asia program director at the Wilson Center, a Washington-based research group.
The offer came on the same day Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a tweet, prayed for the “speedy recovery” of Indians affected by the virus. “We must fight this global challenge confronting humanity together,” Khan said.
I want to express our solidarity with the people of India as they battle a dangerous wave of COVID-19. Our prayers for a speedy recovery go to all those suffering from the pandemic in our neighbourhood & the world. We must fight this global challenge confronting humanity together
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) April 24, 2021
The Indian health ministry on Sunday said it had recorded 349,691 new COVID cases in the previous 24-hour period, yet another daily global record. Hospitals in the Indian capital, New Delhi, and elsewhere in the country are turning away patients after running out of medical oxygen and beds.
Backchannel peace talks
Meanwhile, highly placed sources in Islamabad have confirmed to VOA that peace talks between Pakistani and Indian intelligence officials are continuing in an effort to ease bilateral tensions.
The sources asserted New Delhi proposed the wide-ranging dialogue a year ago to discuss all outstanding issues straining bilateral ties, including the territorial Kashmir dispute, and Islamabad responded positively.
Indian and Pakistani mainstream newspapers have written extensively about the secret negotiations in recent days but officials on both sides have declined to confirm the process.
“It is an opportune time for us to take a strategic pause,” Pakistan’s daily Dawn newspaper quoted an official as saying on Saturday. “We need a break from the cycle of violence and focus on domestic issues,” said the official.
Kashmir is said to be the focus of the discussions. The Himalayan region is split between the two countries. Both claim all of it and have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since India and Pakistan gained independence from Britain in 1947.
“The path of dialogue will be bumpy, but if we stay the course we can reach our objectives,” the daily Dawn newspaper quoted a senior official as saying.
Bilateral tensions have dangerously escalated since August 2019, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government revoked the semiautonomous status of India-administered majority-Muslim Kashmir and declared it a union territory.
Pakistan denounced the move and quickly downgraded all ties with India, saying it would do so until the neighbor reversed its Kashmir-related actions. Islamabad said the Indian actions violated a longstanding United Nations resolution, which recognizes the region as a disputed territory.
New Delhi rejected the objection as an interference in its internal affairs but the ensuing months witnessed intense deadly clashes between the Indian and Pakistani militaries along the de facto Kashmir border, known as the Line of Control (LOC).
Mutual tensions have gradually eased since February when Indian and Pakistani border commanders agreed to halt military skirmishes and reinstitute a 2002 LOC cease-fire, a move that reportedly stemmed from the backchannel negotiations.
In back-to-back statements last month, Khan and Pakistan’s military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, advocated a “stable” relationship with India. They both called for a peaceful settlement to the long-running Kashmir dispute.
Bajwa stressed that “it is time to bury the past and move forward,” saying the rivalry between the two South Asian countries “is dragging the region back to the swamp of poverty and underdevelopment.”