Virus fear resurrects moribund SAARC

Published: March 14, 2020
Leaders of SAARC nations will discuss timely action for healthier planet at 5pm on Sunday, says Indian PM Modi. ILLUSTRATION: EXPRESS/MUHAMMAD AZEEM

Leaders of SAARC nations will discuss timely action for healthier planet at 5pm on Sunday, says Indian PM Modi. ILLUSTRATION: EXPRESS/MUHAMMAD AZEEM

ISLAMABAD : Leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), the regional forum long ignored by India because of its hostilities towards Pakistan, will interact through a video conference on Sunday (today) to discuss a common strategy against the novel coronavirus.

While other countries will be represented by their heads of governments, Pakistan has deputed State Minister for Health Dr Zafar Mirza to participate in the conference.

The idea for a video conference came from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Using his Twitter handle, the Indian PM sprang a surprise when he called for coordinated efforts by Saarc countries to deal with the virus.

“I would like to propose that the leadership of Saarc nations chalk out a strong strategy to fight coronavirus. We could discuss, via video conferencing, ways to keep our citizens healthy. Together, we can set an example to the world, and contribute to a healthier planet,” he tweeted.

Pakistan responds positively to Modi’s offer of video conferencing on coronavirus

His offer came as a surprise to many given the fact that New Delhi, under Modi’s rule, for about four years tried to sideline the regional grouping comprising Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal and Afghanistan as part of its strategy to isolate Islamabad.

It was because of this reason that the Saarc summit scheduled in November 2016 in Islamabad could not take place.

Pakistan accepted the offer acknowledging that the threat of COVID-19 required coordinated efforts at regional and global levels.

However, the decision to pick Mirza instead of Prime Minister Imran Khan himself participating in the leadership-level conference shows that Islamabad has tried to maintain a fine balance in its approach.

On Saturday Modi tweeted: “Timely action for a healthier planet. Tomorrow at 5pm, leaders of SAARC nations will discuss, via conferencing, a roadmap to fight the challenge of COVID-19 novel coronavirus. I am confident that our coming together will lead to effective outcomes and benefit our citizens.”

On Thursday, Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said Pakistan was ready to cooperate and extend any assistance to its neighbours, including India, to deal with the coronavirus. The number of coronavirus cases in Pakistan and India is low but there is a threat of rise in the infected people.

The relationship between Pakistan and India has continued to deteriorate in recent years particularly after the Pulwama attack in February last year and the abrogation of the special status of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir on August 5.

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