The coronavirus has brought bitter foes, India and Pakistan, to the table to chalk out a divisive strategy. South Asian nations held a conference via video link to meet the challenges posed by Covid-19 pandemic which has been sweeping across the globe.
Indian Prime Minister Modi took a break from his broadsides against Pakistan to call for a meeting of SAARC nations, acknowledging the need for a regional strategy to fight the outbreak. India proposed the creation of an emergency fund with an initial contribution of $10 million and also offered the services of rapid response doctors and health workers.
The meeting agreed on the need to evolve a common strategy to handle critical challenges and find cooperative solutions, share best practices, and resources. Even Modi agreed on the need to maintain close contact between regional countries, saying that the neighborhood cooperation should be a model for the world.
This is the first time since SAARC nations have come together since 2014. Pakistan currently holds the hosting right for the annual conference but regional countries stayed away over Indian pressure and the ongoing situation between the two countries. One would not have imagined that a common enemy, a micro-organism invisible to the human eye, would bring them together.
The video conference by attended by heads of state or government by all SAARC nations, except Pakistan. The prime minister sent his health adviser Zafar Mirza to attend the conference, something which did not go unnoticed by India. He used the occasion calling for lifting the lockdown in held Kashmir and the provision of health facilities to tackle the spread of the coronavirus.
This would have infuriated New Delhi which would blame Pakistan for using the occasion for political gains. Mirza called for exchange of health information, data surveillance in real-time, and establishing a SAARC Secretariat, but his proposal to involve China in the initiative would not be well-received. He said the pandemic forces to think now in terms of nations and states but as a collective.
This was an opportunity for the prime minister to directly confront regional leaders over the handling of the crisis. India has assumed leadership of the coronavirus charge in South Asia, diminishing Pakistan’s voice at the forum. Pakistan should be assertive as India is using SAARC to diplomatically bolster itself, despite the fact that the regional bloc has been losing its relevance.
The conference shows that regional cooperation is vital during any disaster and provides new venues for multilateral initiatives. Decisions are hardly made at conferences and such platforms are hardly used to make policies either. Unless there is no follow-up and regional mechanism, the video conference would not gain any real purpose.