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Modi calls for Saarc conference to build strategy against coronavirus

March 13, 2020 03:45 PM


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In the wake of the rapid spread of coronavirus infections across countries, including South Asia, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proposed a conference among leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka to discuss a strategy to combat the disease.

“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," Modi said in a Twitter post.

SAARC refers to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation – which groups together all the countries in the South Asian region. The grouping was born in the mid-1980s but has little to show for itself given that progress on issues like regional integration and connectivity have been minimal mainly due to tensions between India and Pakistan. Pakistan was to host a summit of SAARC leaders in 2016 but India, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh pulled out of the meet. No summit of SAARC has been held since.

“Our planet is battling the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus. At various levels, governments and people are trying their best to combat it. South Asia, which is home to a significant number of the global population should leave no stone unturned to ensure our people are healthy," Modi said in a second post.

All South Asian countries -- Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan -- have reported coronavirus cases, according to the World Health Organisation website. India has recorded one death and 79 cases of SARS-CoV2 infections so far.

Earlier this week, India sent medical assistance to the Maldives to help the country deal with its cases and detection.

It is unclear whether Modi’s move is a gesture towards engaging Islamabad on issues other than those emerging out of the coronavirus outbreak.

Tensions have been high between India and Pakistan since Modi revoked the special status granted to Kashmir. Pakistan, infuriated by India’s so-called unilateral action, has been highlighting what it calls human rights abuses in Kashmir and calling for mediation from third parties and countries.

Interestingly a day earlier there had been hints from Pakistan that it is working with neighbouring countries including India to cope with coronavirus.

Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said, “Government of Pakistan is monitoring the situation very closely and will take measures required for the citizens within Pakistan and any assistance we can provide to our neighbouring countries.”

Aisha said, “It is the primary responsibility of those countries to take appropriate measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Pakistan is also taking all the requisite steps at our borders and airports to ensure the safety of our people and control the spread of Coronavirus.”

Adding, “Pakistan Consulate in Herat has been closed for fifteen days for administrative reasons. Similarly, the consular section of the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul has also been closed for a few days for administrative reasons.”



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