Home / News / India /  At Saarc video conference, PM proposes fund to fight Covid-19

NEW DELHI : South Asian nations agreed on Sunday to evolve a common strategy to meet the challenge posed by the Covid-19 pandemic with India proposing the creation of an emergency fund with an initial contribution of $10 million to halt the onslaught of the disease that has so far claimed nearly 6,000 lives globally.

However, a skittish Pakistan sought to use the occasion that brought together the members of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) grouping for the first time in almost six years to raise the Kashmir issue, calling for the lifting of embargos on communication in Kashmir to better tackle the spread of Covid-19.

Speaking at a meeting of the heads of countries of the Saarc grouping via video link, Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered the services of a rapid response team of doctors and health workers armed with testing kits.

Modi also offered online training for health workers in Saarc countries to scale up skills to beat Covid-19, which has so far infected more than 150,000 people in 142 countries, according to the US-based Johns Hopkins live dashboard of the disease.

“We all agree that evolving a common strategy is critical to handling such challenges and we agree to find cooperative solutions. We will share knowledge best practices, capacities, and, where possible, resources," Modi said.

“Let me assure you that we will do our best for our neighbours. Let us ask our officials to maintain close contact and develop a common strategy in the spirit of partnership and the spirit of working together. Our neighbourhood collaboration should be a model for the world," he said. The meeting among Saarc leaders happened at Modi’s instance. Modi has also proposed a meeting of G-20 leaders to draw up a strategy to beat Covid-19, said a person familiar with the matter.

Earlier, Modi proposed a “Covid-19 emergency fund" to which India would contribute $10 million initially.

He also proposed an assessment by trade officials of member countries of the impact of the pandemic on intra-regional trade and development. Saarc groups together Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Saarc leaders have not come together on one platform since November 2014 when Nepal hosted a leaders’ summit.

Sunday’s meet was also addressed by President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of Maldives, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, Prime Minister Lotay Tshering of Bhutan and Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli of Nepal. Only Pakistan was represented by an official, Zafar Mirza, special assistant to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, and not by the prime minister himself, something that did not go unnoticed in New Delhi.

Using the forum to rake up the Kashmir dispute, Mirza said: “In view of the health emergency, it is imperative that all lockdown in the disputed territory (of ‘Kashmir) must be lifted immediately. Opening up communications and movement would facilitate dissemination of information along with distribution of medical supplies," he said, referring to curbs imposed by India on the internet following the revocation of the special status of Kashmir in August.

“Pakistan comes off as looking petulant and cheap" for raising the Kashmir dispute at such a forum, said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal. “It is an expression of low class diplomacy," he said.

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