ISLAMABAD: Continuing his regional outreach over Covid-19 pandemic, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Monday spoke to his Maldivian counterpart reiterating Pakistan’s desire to host a meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc).

In a telephonic conversation with Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, Mr Qureshi appreciated Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s proposal for developing a comprehensive regional strategy to combat Covid-19, and reiterated Pakistan’s offer to host Saarc health ministers’ conference soon.

The idea of a regional strategy and Pakistan’s offer of hosting Saarc health ministers’ conference were first discussed at the Saarc leaders’ video conference held on March 15 to explore the possibility of cooperation against the pandemic.

“The two ministers held detailed discussions on the situation arising from Covid-19 and ways to enhance cooperation to combat the threat posed by the rapid spread of the pandemic,” the FO statement said.

Mr Qureshi expressed the hope that Maldives would soon overcome the current economic difficulties due to suspension of tourism and other activities triggered by Covid-19 pandemic.

Maldivian economy heavily relies on tourism. The coronavirus infection reached Maldives through an Italian tourist earlier this month and so far there are 13 confirmed cases in the island country in the Indian Ocean. Since March 20, the Maldives government has banned entry of all safari boats, yachts and passenger vessels arriving to Maldives from an overseas location.

The Maldives government has pledged $200,000 to Saarc Emergency Fund for Covid-19.

Mr Qureshi told his Maldivian counterpart that all Maldives nationals in Pakistan were safe. He sought Mr Shahid’s assistance for four Pakistani tourists stranded in Maldives.

The foreign minister also briefed his Maldivian counterpart on Pakistan’s call for lifting US sanctions against Iran in the light of the health emergency in that country, as well as Prime Minister Imran Khan’s proposal for restructuring of developing world debt to free up resources to enable developing countries to save lives and shore up their economies.

A day earlier, Mr Qureshi had spoken to foreign ministers of Iran, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2020