Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clarion call to the leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries to join hands to pool resources and chart out a common strategy to effectively combat the spread of the deadly COVID 19 virus in the region has found immediate acceptance by the leaders of the all the SAARC nations including Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. This statesmanlike initiative of Prime Minister Modi is being hailed world over. It also enkindles hope that this coming together for fighting one of the major adversities of our times may eventually lead to resuscitating SAARC which had almost gone comatose since 2014. Experts on South Asian and Sub-continental affairs are still not willing to rush to such a conclusion. Nevertheless thawing of the frozen relationship and collaboration between the two main constituents of SAARC- India and Pakistan albeit for a limited purpose like this on a multilateral platform could eventually ease the air for greater intra SAARC relationship.
SAARC provides a platform for the peoples of South Asia to work together in a spirit of friendship, trust and understanding. It aims to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to improve their quality of life through accelerated economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region. During the 15th SAARC Summit, the Heads of States or Governments emphasized and renewed their resolve for collective regional efforts to accelerate economic growth, social progress, and cultural development and emphasized on key issues like telecommunication, energy, climate change, transport, poverty alleviation, healthcare, science and technology, trade, education, food security and tourism.
SAARC has so far in its three and half decades of existence, made significant contributions not only in realizing the objectives of regional cooperation and development as set out in its charter but also has established itself as one among the potent regional groups in the world.
As a founder member, India has endeavoured since SAARC”s inception to strengthen it for the holistic development of the region and people living here. Ever since assuming office of India’s Prime Minister in 2014, Mr. Narendra Modi has been one of the biggest votaries of developing good neighbourly relations with countries in and around India. He has called for strong and effective cooperation among the nations in the region. This is reflected in his government’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. Pakistan’s continuous support to cross border terrorism and anti – India activities have forced India’s hands to reluctantly stay away from partaking in certain SAARC activities and go along with other regional entities like BIMSTEC etc.
India is awakened to the importance of SAARC is reaffirmed by the latest outreach by the Indian Prime Minister to leaders of the SAARC member-countries to collectively meet the challenges of the pandemic ravaging the world to minimize its impact in the South Asian region.
Connecting to leaders of eight South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations who spoke to each other through video conference on March 15, 2020, for a joint strategy to fight the corona virus outbreak, Prime Minister Modi while calling for a concerted and collaborative efforts in his opening address, said, “As we all know, COVID-19 has recently been classified by the World Health Organisation as a pandemic. So far, our region has listed fewer than 150 cases. But we need to remain vigilant”. He proposed to create a COVID-19 emergency fund and said India can start by contributing $10 million. He added, “Prepare, but don’t panic’; this has been India’s guiding mantra in dealing with corona virus outbreak.
This found echo in the statements of other leaders of the region who endorsed the initiative of the Indian Prime Minister for a collaborative approach. Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli said “Our collective efforts will help us devise a sound and robust strategy for SAARC region to fight corona virus”.
India would like this cooperation to last and extend to fighting other scourges affecting the region as a whole which is home to over 1.8 billion and forty percent of this population is living below the poverty line. The task is not very easy but with her conviction and vision for stable regional cooperation, India aims to achieve this.
Script: Amlanjyoti Mazumdar, Director: ESD