Pakistan is aiming to score narrow political goals by attempting to bring India’s initiatives to collectively fight the coronavirus crisis in the SAARC region under the framework of the grouping, government sources said on Thursday. Pakistan on Wednesday boycotted a video conference of trade officials of the SAARC countries, saying such initiatives could only be effective if spearheaded by the group’s secretariat instead of India.
India has been maintaining that the initiatives taken under extraordinary circumstances are focussed on jointly dealing with the pandemic without being bounded by any procedural formalities.
“It is an attempt to score narrow political goals while people of the region are facing the coronavirus crisis,” said a source.
Wednesday’s video conference took place as part of India’s initiatives to jointly fight the pandemic as well as its economic and social impact on the region.
The sources said Pakistan will get a free hand to block India’s initiatives if COVID-19 related interactions are brought under formal structure of SAARC.
Pakistan will have the option of scuttling them by pressing for the principle of consensus in drafting of agenda, outcome document and on all other related issues at every step, they said.
A series of initiatives have been taken to deal with with the pandemic as a follow up to an India-initiated video conference of SAARC leaders on March 15. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had suggested in the conference that the member nations of the bloc should come together to jointly fight the pandemic.
India has been considering the activities as being stand-alone and outside the “SAARC calendar of approved activities”.
Keeping control of the activities that emerged from the prime minister’s video conference of March 15 has helped us move much faster and without any hindrances, the sources said.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is a grouping comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
All the SAARC member nations are reeling under adverse social and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The trade officials of the SAARC countries on Wednesday broadly agreed to identify new ways to “sustain and expand” the intra-regional trade to offset the huge economic cost of the coronavirus pandemic.
The officials also deliberated on creating a larger framework of trade facilitation and highlighted need to enhance the quantum of intra SAARC trade as the pandemic is likely to have a considerable impact on the region.
Shortly after the conference on Wednesday, Pakistan’s Foreign Office in a statement said: “Activities such as today’s Trade Officials’ Video-Conference could only be effective if spearheaded by the SAARC Secretariat. Since the SAARC Secretariat was not part of today’s Video-Conference, Pakistan chose not to participate.”
In order for the SAARC process to move forward, the SAARC Secretariat must be enabled to play its due role in any event or activity being organised under its auspices, the statement said.