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Last Sunday, on 15th March 2020 Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to all member nations of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, SAARC through video conferencing to chalk out a strong common strategy to fight the fast spreading deadly virus COVID 19. The virus has claimed over ten thousand lives globally so far with more than two hundred thousand affected people convalescing in isolated wards in hospitals, the world over.
All eight member nations of SAARC reacted positively to Prime Minister Modi’s initiative for a joint strategy to fight out COVID 19 and Presidents of Srilanka, Maldives and Afghanistan and Prime Ministers of India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan actively participated in the video conferencing. Pakistan was represented by the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Zafar Mirza. All leaders underlined the need to pool their efforts for unitedly taking on the pandemic. They were conscious that it was a major humanitarian issue and Prime Minister Modi’s clarion call that the region can best respond to the pandemic by collective efforts and through a common strong strategy was promptly responded to with all seriousness by all SAARC Heads of State and governments. Pakistan however used the solemn occasion to surreptitiously raise the Kashmir issue.
While it was within the sovereign rights of Pakistan to participate in the video conference at whatever level it found fit but a widely circulated Pakistani daily ‘Dawn” in an editorial lamented that ‘perhaps there would have been greater awareness of Pakistan’s efforts in the fight against the deadly virus had Prime Minister Imran Khan participated in the video conference, as his Bangladeshi and Indian counterparts did.’ The daily noted that ‘a common enemy presents a window of opportunity for all countries at odds to put aside their differences, at least for the time being, and take on the virus on a war footing.’
Two major opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Pakistan Peoples’ Party, PPP also regretted that the government was not taking the pandemic as a serious threat to the country.
SAARC region is the most densely populated region with being home to nearly one fifth of the total global population. The pandemic is knocking at the doors of all eight member nations to enter the third stage of its spread, from individuals to the community level at large. However no other country in the region is equipped to deal with such a situation in terms of resources, manpower, infrastructure and research in the health sector, except India which has created testing and other facilities to a large extent. Prime Minister Modi’s proposal to create an Emergency Fund for immediate mobilisation of resources, manpower and gadgets to check the spread of COVID 19 in the region was also highly appreciated by all leaders. India announced an initial contribution of ten million US dollars to the Fund and New Delhi has received requests from SAARC member countries for assistance. In the last five days India has supplied testing equipment, sanitisers and other essential items to Nepal, Srilanka, Maldives, Afghanistan and Bangladesh worth about one million US dollars out of the ten million dollar commitment it made to the Emergency Fund.
The pandemic is spreading fast with Pakistan and India reporting the highest number of affected cases than any other country in the SAARC region. In the latest update Dawn newspaper has reported more than 450 confirmed cases with two deaths. Sindh province in Pakistan has reported the highest number of over 240 affected persons. In India the tally of confirmed cases has crossed two hundred mark, with four deaths so far.
The fast spreading COVID 19 has become a major challenge to the whole world and even the developing economies like G-7 nations are drawing up common strategies to deal with it.
Script: Rattan Saldi, Political Commentator