At the initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when the prime ministers and other leaders of SAARC countries discussed the strategy through video conferencing on Saturday evening to deal with the coronavirus, Pakistan did not desist from repeating its Kashmir refrain. During the meeting, Prime Minister Modi suggested the creation of an emergency fund to which India would contribute $ 10 million (1 crore).
Health Minister of Pakistan Zafar Mirza raised the issue of Kashmir and said that the restrictions on people should be lifted. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan did not attend the press conference. He sent Health Minister Zafar Mirza. Mirza thanked Prime Minister Modi for the initiative otherwise.
Mirza said, “It is a matter of concern that COVID-19 has been reported from Jammu and Kashmir and in view of a health emergency, it is imperative that all lockdown in the territory must be lifted immediately.”
“No nation can afford to be unresponsive to the situation in wake of coronavirus outbreak,” Mirza said, adding, “We believe that SAARC Secretariat does provide us a platform that can bring us together and we believe that we need to use this platform for pooling of resources, technical expertise, national experiences and even financing that can be used by SAARC members.”
Prime Minister Modi said at the conference that the SAARC countries must fight coronavirus together. “Be careful with this but there is no need to panic,” he said.
Modi said that 1,400 Indians had been brought from other countries. He told the representatives of SAARC nations his government was arranging for the tests of Indians who were still stranded abroad in the laboratories in those respective countries.
The prime minister said that screening has been going on at the airport since January. He said since the World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared the coronavirus disease a pandemic, about 150 cases had surfaced in India so far. “We need to be cautious,” he said.
Responses of SAARC nations other than Pakistan
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said at the video conference that things that could work for China, the US or Iran etc were not suitable for the Afghan people.
“We should create a common framework for telemedicine to combat coronavirus. The closing of borders will result in a significant problem of availability of food, medicines and basic goods,” he said.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that health ministers, health secretaries and health experts of respective SAARC countries should hold this kind of video conferences to discuss specific areas of cooperation. “To continue this dialogue at the technical level, our health ministers, health secretaries and health experts should also hold this kind of video conferences to discuss specific areas of cooperation,” she said.
Hasina thanked Modi for the initiative. “I thank PM Modi for taking this initiative. I also thank him for bringing and hosting 23 of our students from Wuhan (China) along with Indian students,” she said.
Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said that the collective efforts would help devise a sound and robust strategy for the SAARC region to fight coronavirus. “I would like to thank PM Modi ji for taking this important and timely initiative. Our collective wisdom and efforts will help us devise a sound and robust strategy for the SAARC region as we fight COVID19,” he said.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that the economy of his country had taken a bad hit. He appealed to the member countries to formulate a mechanism to help his country’s economy. “Our economy has taken a serious blow, particularly the tourism sector which was just recovering after last years’ terrorist attack. I strongly recommend SAARC leaders to formulate a mechanism to assist our economies to tide over a difficult period,” Rajapaksa said.
President of the Maldives Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said that his country is fortunate to have received general assistance from India and he thanked PM Modi and people of India for the help.
“I too will begin by thanking PM Modi for this timely call for the regional initiative to combat the increasing threat of coronavirus. No country on its own can succeed in combating the virus,” he said.