ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Wednesday said that Pakistan stayed away from the regional trade officials’ video conference on Covid-19 hosted by India because it had not been managed by the secretariat of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc).
“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,” the FO said while explaining Pakistan’s absence from the conference.
Islamabad urges Saarc role
Trade officials of all Saarc countries, except Pakistan, held a video conference on Wednesday to discuss the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on intra-regional trade and effect of travel restrictions. The meeting was a follow-up to the Saarc leaders’ video conference held last month in which PM’s Special Assistant on Health Dr Zafar Mirza represented Pakistan.
Moreover, India has taken forward its proposal for setting up of Covid-19 Emergency Fund. All member countries have pledged contributions to the fund except Pakistan, which has been insisting that the Fund be placed under the control of the Saarc secretary general and modalities for its utilisation should be transparently decided.
The FO reiterated its commitment to Saarc and emphasised that the role of bloc’s Secretariat “assumes further salience in emergency situations such as the Covid-19 pandemic, and its wider social and economic fallout”.
“As in the case of other regional and international organisations, Saarc Secretariat also provides the requisite convening platform, institutional framework and support structure for essential coordination and follow-up,” FO maintained and added that the Saarc Secretariat must be enabled to play its due role in any event or activity being organised under its auspices.
Pakistan has, meanwhile, been trying to organise a video conference of the health ministers of Saarc countries on the pandemic. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has discussed the proposal for the conference with his counterparts from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Maldives and Saarc Secretary General Esala Ruwan Weerakoon. He is yet to engage India and Afghanistan on it.
India has been actively working to sideline Pakistan from Saarc since forcing postponement of the bloc’s 19th summit in 2016, which was to be held in Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2020