Modi bats for joint SAARC strategy to fight coronavirus, gets prompt support from neighbours

"I would like to propose that the leadership of SAARC nations chalk out a strong strategy to fight coronavirus. We could discuss, via video conferencing, ways to keep our citizens healthy," PM Modi said.

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"Together, we can set an example to the world, and contribute to a healthier planet," Modi said.
NEW DELHI: In a significant but surprise diplomatic move in the backdrop of Covid-19 outbreak, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday proposed a video conference among leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka to discuss a strategy to combat the disease in the region.

“I would like to propose that the leadership of Saarc nations chalk out a strong strategy to fight coronavirus. We could discuss, via video conferencing, ways to keep our citizens healthy. Together, we can set an example to the world, and contribute to a healthier planet,” Modi tweeted.

Modi’s offer has received immediate positive response from all South Asian states. Pakistan on late Friday responded and announced that Special Advisor to PM on Health will be available to participate in the video-conference.


All South Asian countries – Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan – have reported coronavirus cases, according to the World Health Organization website. India has recorded one death and 79 cases of SARS-CoV2 infections so far. Earlier this week, India sent medical assistance to the Maldives to help the country deal with its cases and detection.

Friday’s move is significant given the state of ties between India and Pakistan for last few years. Ties touched a new low over terror attacks in Pulwama followed by Pakistan’s efforts to internationalise Kashmir issue after August 5 decision to scrap Article 370.

Relations have been further strained over Pakistan’s efforts through China at the UN Security Council and at the UN Human Rights Council, none of which have succeeded though.
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Pakistan was to host a summit of Saarc leaders in 2016 but India, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh pulled out of the meet citing Pakistan’s support to terrorism as not conducive for regional cooperation.

No summit of SAARC has been held since despite efforts by Nepal to handover Presidency to Pakistan.

Neighbourhood First has been hallmark of the Modi government’s foreign policy and Delhi has often reached out to assist neighbouring countries including in extended neighbourhood.

Earlier in 2014 Modi had invited all SAARC leaders including Pakistan for swearing in ceremony. Later in 2019 he invited BIMSTEC leaders for his swearing in ceremony. Earlier the Modi government had sought to promote sub-regional cooperation by promoting BIMSTEC following Pakistan’s intransigence against ratifying connectivity initiatives.
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"Our Prime Minister has shown exemplary leadership in calling for regional cooperation to tackle the menace of Corona virus. It is heartening to see that our neighbours from Bangladesh to Maldives including Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, have responded positively to this call. Together, we should do everything to uphold our public health," according to Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International, a leading public policy body.

Meanwhile India on Friday also announced to suspend bus and train services to Bangladesh. Goods train will, however, be running between the two countries.
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