The video conference was part of Pakistan's efforts to foster greater cooperation at the regional level. PHOTO: FILE

Pakistan to host SAARC virtual conference on Covid-19

Foreign Office says conference will deliberate on ways to promote cooperation to combat pandemic

Kamran Yousaf April 22, 2020
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will host a virtual conference of ministers and senior officials from 8-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) on Thursday (today) to discuss a common strategy against Covid-19 that is now spreading rapidly in this part of the world.

The Saarc conference was proposed by Pakistan. On March 15, Saarc leaders held a virtual conference on the pandemic. While other countries were represented by heads of state and governments, Pakistan instead deputed Dr Zafar Mirza, the de facto health minister for the meeting.

Pakistan later boycotted the trade officials meeting on the pretext that Saarc Secretariat based in Nepal should lead the fight against the pandemic instead of India. Against this backdrop, the Saarc health ministers conference is taking place on Thursday.

Covid-19: no Saarc tie-up sans Pakistan

“As proposed by Pakistan, a Video Conference of Saarc Member States is being held on 23 April 2020 to discuss the COVID-19 Pandemic,” said a statement issued by the Foreign Office.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for Health Dr Zafar Mirza will lead the Pakistan delegation. Besides ministers and senior officials, the meeting would also be attended by Saarc Secretary General Esala Ruwan Weerakon, the statement added.

The virtual meeting takes forward Pakistan’s earlier initiative to host the Saarc health ministers meeting, which has assumed urgency in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition to exchanging updates on the status of national containment efforts, the conference will deliberate on ways to promote deeper cooperation to combat the crisis through strengthening disease surveillance, sharing best practices, building national capacities, coordinating research efforts and promoting regional and international linkages.

Pakistan boycotts India-sponsored meeting of SAARC trade officials

“High population densities and fragile health systems render South Asia, which is home to one-fifth of the humanity, vulnerable to the pandemic,” the statement noted. It said closer coordination among regional countries through utilisation of all available institutional mechanisms, including the Saarc platform, remains important for combating the disease.

The video conference is part of Pakistan’s efforts to foster greater cooperation at the regional level to effectively overcome the public health crisis, and mitigate its socio-economic impact. Until now, Saarc virtually remained dysfunctional for last many years because of acrimonious relationship between Pakistan and India.

Pakistan was to host Saarc summit in November 2016 but it never took place since India refused to attend the gathering.