Pakistan goes AWOL from Saarc’s list of contributors for Covid-19 fund

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Mar 25, 2020 10:23 AM IST

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had deputed his minister to attend the conference on Covid-19 Emergency Fund

Pakistan is the only member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) that hasn’t contributed to the Covid-19 Emergency Fund for the grouping that has already received commitments worth $18.8 million.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan had deputed his health minister to the Covid-19 virtual meet convened by PM Narendra Modi.(AP)
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan had deputed his health minister to the Covid-19 virtual meet convened by PM Narendra Modi.(AP)

The fund, created with an initial contribution of $10 million from India, was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a video conference of leaders of the eight Saarc states on March 15 to forge a coordinated approach to tackling the Coronavirus outbreak.

So far, the other contributions to the fund include $1 million from Afghanistan, $1.5 million from Bangladesh, $100,000 from Bhutan, $200,000 from the Maldives, $1 million from Nepal, and $5 million from Sri Lanka.

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“It [the contributions] truly reflects the deeply shared sense of determination in the participating countries to act together,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement.

People familiar with developments said there had been no pledge for the fund so far from Pakistan, which was the only country that wasn’t represented by a head of government at the March 15 video conference.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had stayed away from the conference. Islamabad was instead represented at the video conference by its de facto health minister Zafar Mirza. The minister had also created a flutter by raising the Kashmir issue during the video conference, prompting Indian officials to say later that Pakistan had sought to politicise a humanitarian issue.

The people cited above, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noted that even a country such as Afghanistan, with its limited resources and budgetary constraints, had pledged $1 million.

The Pakistan government’s approach to tackling the Covid-19 outbreak has been deeply criticised within the country by experts and commentators. The Pakistan Army deployed its troops and medical resources on Monday after the civilian government dithered on the issue of a lockdown.

The Covid-19 Emergency Fund has been operationalised and is being used to meet the costs of immediate actions. The requirements of urgent medical supplies and equipment in Saarc countries are being met through the fund.

The Saarc Disaster Management Centre in Gandhinagar has created a website on Covid-19 for shared use by member states. The website aims to disseminate reliable information and updates on the evolving situation in the region and best practices with the active participation of member countries.

“The numbers of Covid-19 cases in all Saarc countries have been growing steadily, further reinforcing the need for all to act in fullest solidarity to address the challenge and mitigate its impact,” the statement said.

A video conference of senior health professionals of Saarc states is scheduled for March 26 so that they can exchange experiences in combating the spread of Covid-19, including specific protocols dealing with screening at entry points, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation facilities.

The discussions in this conference will also focus on practical joint action on online training capsules for emergency response teams, setting up an “integrated disease surveillance portal”, creating a common research platform and coordination of research on controlling epidemics within South Asia.

“It is India’s belief that sharing of resources, expertise, best practices and capacities in these challenging times would go a long way in bringing the countries in the Saarc region closer together,” the statement said.

The March 15 video conference was the first Saarc-related initiative by India since a summit of the grouping scheduled to be held in Pakistan in 2016 was called off after a terror attack on an army camp at Uri in Kashmir. Since then, India has expended more diplomatic capital in shoring up alternative groupings such as Bimstec.

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