The heads of government of the other six Saarc members are expected to join the video conference.(Photo: Ajay Aggarwal/ Hindustan Times)
The heads of government of the other six Saarc members are expected to join the video conference.(Photo: Ajay Aggarwal/ Hindustan Times)

Video conference of Saarc leaders on COVID-19 to be held on Sunday

All seven other members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) have endorsed the proposal made by Modi on Friday. Pakistan, the last member state to agree, has said its de facto health minister will join the video conference.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Rezaul H Laskar
UPDATED ON MAR 14, 2020 08:06 PM IST

The video conference of Saarc leaders to frame a strategy to counter Coronavirus, mooted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will be held on Sunday evening, people familiar with developments said on Saturday.

All seven other members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) endorsed the proposal made by Modi on Friday. Pakistan, the last member state to agree, has said its de facto health minister will join the video conference.

In a tweet, Modi had proposed the leadership of Saarc states should “chalk out a strong strategy to fight Coronavirus” and “discuss, via video conferencing, ways to keep our citizens healthy”.

The people cited above, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the video conference has been scheduled for 5 pm on Sunday. Modi, the leaders of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives and Sri Lanka and Zafar Mirza, special adviser on health to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, will join the conference, they said.

Saarc has been largely inactive since a summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad in 2016 was called off after an attack on an army camp at Uri in Kashmir that was blamed on Pakistan-based terrorists. Since then, India has turned to alternative blocs such as Bimstec to bolster regional cooperation.

While the top leaders of six Saarc states agreed to Modi’s suggestion for forging a joint strategy on COVID-19 hours after he made it, Pakistan announced shortly after midnight on Friday that Mirza would represent the country in the video conference.

“The threat of #COVID-19 requires coordinated efforts at global and regional level. We have communicated that SAPM on Health will be available to participate in the video conference of #SAARC member countries on the issue,” Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui tweeted.

The decision was also conveyed to India through diplomatic channels, said the people. Logistics for the exercise and the agenda for discussions were finalised on Saturday, they said.

“This exercise shouldn’t be seen as a revival of Saarc. This is a measure aimed at bringing together regional countries to tackle a common challenge,” said a person who didn’t want to be identified.

The people noted that Pakistan’s decision to field only an adviser to the prime minister reflected its reluctance to engage at the highest level with India.

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