Saarc backs Pakistan proposal for health ministers’ video conference

Updated April 03, 2020

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Saarc secretary general appreciates Pakistan's proposal, says joint effort required to beat coronavirus. — AFP/File
Saarc secretary general appreciates Pakistan's proposal, says joint effort required to beat coronavirus. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) secretary general Esala Ruwan Weerakoon on Thursday backed Pakistan’s proposal for a video conference of the health ministers of the eight-member regional bloc on the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Saarc secretary general appreciated Pakistan’s proposal of health ministers’ video conference, the Foreign Office (FO) said in a statement on the telephonic conversation between Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Mr Weerakoon.

Both Mr Qureshi and Mr Weerakoon agreed on the need for joint efforts for fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Pakistan has been pushing the idea of Saarc health ministers on the pandemic since India hosted a video conference of the Saarc leaders on March 15. Mr Qureshi has reached out to all Saarc counterparts except those from India and Afghanistan on this issue.

Pakistan is also seeking clarity on the modalities for the utilisation of the Saarc Fund for Covid-19, which had been set up on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal, and has been demanding for it to be placed at the disposal of the Saarc secretary general.

All countries in the regional bloc, except Pakistan, have announced their pledges for the fund, which now cumulatively stands at $18.8 million.

“The Foreign Minister also reiterated that the proposed Saarc Covid-19 Emergency Fund may be placed under the supervision of Secretary General of Saarc and that the modalities for the Fund’s utilisation be finalised through consultations among member states,” the FO said.

This was Mr Qureshi’s first interaction with Mr Weerakoon, the Sri Lankan diplomat, who last month took over as the 14th Secretary General of Saarc.

Mr Qureshi assured him of Pakistan’s full support and expressed the hope that Saarc would be able to move forward during his tenure.

“Foreign Minister Qureshi reiterated Pakistan’s readiness to work closely with the Saarc Secretariat and Saarc member states to realise the common goal of accelerating economic growth and promoting the welfare of the people of South Asia,” the FO said.

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2020