Social distancing with India: Pak stays away from Saarc meets on Covid-19

PM Modi during SAARC video summit. Photo: @ANI
Pakistan’s grudge

Earlier this week, Pakistan stayed away from the regional trade officials’ video conference on Covid-19 because as per the neighboiring country, it should have been managed by the secretariat of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), not hosted by India.

Trade officials of all Saarc countries (except Pakistan) met via videoconferencing to discuss the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on intra-regional trade and the effect of travel restrictions. In the virtual conference, the trade officials broadly agreed to identify new ways to “sustain and expand” the intra-regional trade to offset the huge economic cost of the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting was a follow-up to the SAARC leaders’ video conference, that was convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 15, in which the special assistant to prime minister on health, Dr Zafar Mirza, represented Pakistan. Pakistan feels Saarc should have coordinated. It is now contacting health ministers of all Saarc countries, except India and Afghanistan, to convene a parallel conference on the same issue.

Pakistan also has issues with the fact that India forwarded the suggestion to set up a Covid-19 emergency fund. All member countries have pledged contributions to the fund, except Pakistan, which has been insisting that the fund be placed under the control of the Saarc secretary general and modalities for its utilisation be transparently decided.

India allegedly scuttled a Saarc meeting that Pakistan was to host in 2016. Islamabad has not forgiven Delhi for that.

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