Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative to bring SAARC member States together to cooperate in combating the Coronavirus pandemic is getting activated since its launch last month.
On Thursday, a meeting of the Health ministers of eight SAARC nations was held through video conference. This is the first time that Indian officials attended a meeting hosted by Pakistan, who happens to be chair of SAARC nations.
External Affairs Ministry explained it as “virtual meeting which was an occasion for India to reaffirm its strong commitment towards greater sharing of knowledge, expertise and best practices in the joint fight against Covid-19 for the larger regional good.”This was the third meeting following the video conference convened by PM Modi in March.
The meeting was chaired by Special Assistant to Pak Prime Minister Imran Khan on Health Dr Zafar Mirza who had attended the first meeting convened by Mr Modi. India was represented by the Director-General of Health Services, assisted by experts from All India Institute of Medical Sciences of New Delhi and Indian Council of Medical Research.
Though Pakistan tried to describe it as a meeting at the level of Health Ministers, most of the countries, including Bangladesh, were represented by their officials. At the meeting, Islamabad reiterated their demand for a meeting at the ministerial level but none of the participants gave any positive response.
In the meeting, India proposed to use an electronic platform, namely ‘SAARC Covind-19 information exchange platform’’ which will be used for exchange of specialized information and tools on Covid -19 among designated health professionals of the region. This platform will enhance online training too.
Though the representative of Pakistan agreed in principle to share all data related to Covid pandemic but it is not clear whether they would join the electronic platform as proposed by India.
In the last meeting of SAARC leaders, it was decided to have a dedicated fund for the purpose and except Pakistan all other members had agreed to the proposal put forward by PM Modi for setting up a website as prepared by the disaster management centre of Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Though later Pakistan agreed to participate in the Covid fund initiative but put a condition of managing the fund by the SAARC Secretariat and thereby spoiling the initiative.
Observing a rare unity among all other SAARC nations to combat the deadly virus that has engulfed nearly 180 countries across the world, Pakistan has finally agreed to the terms of the decision taken in the March meeting of the SAARC leaders.
At the meeting, India also highlighted the successful use of the “promising future of new technology-based solutions like mobile app ‘Arogya Setu‘ to maximise community outreach and intervention”.
Pakistan representative proposed to revive SAARC technical committee of health but no decision has been taken so far. It is understood that a similar type of meeting is expected in the near future and following that another meeting of the heads of government is not ruled out.