Pak to call SAARC Health Ministers conference on coronavirus

Islamabad believes SAARC an effective forum

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan will soon call South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Health Ministers conference to discuss a joint strategy against the coronavirus, officials said.

Pakistan had proposed hosting SAARC Health Ministers’ Conference at the earliest during a Video-Conference of SAARC Member States held to discuss responses to the Covid-19 outbreak on March 15.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister and Minister of State for Health, Dr Zafar Mirza had represented Pakistan in the conference. Saarc members include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said Pakistan had made a demand for the Health Ministers’ conference at a public forum so it was being discussed.

“Pakistan has already made the demand. We will see how it goes. The conference should be held. We beleive SAARC is an effective forum,” she told The Nation.

Yesterday, Pakistan’s coronavirus tally reached 96. Sindh was the worst hit with 76. The deadly virus that first originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year has claimed over 5,000 lives and infected more than 150,000 people across 135 countries and territories.

China remains the hardest-hit with more than 80,000 infections and 3,199 deaths. Afghanistan has reported 11 confirmed cases while Sri Lanka’ tally has risen to 10. Other members - Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan - have reported cases in single digit. All countries have individually taken measures to prevent spread of virus within their borders.

Pakistan has always pledged to make SAARC process successful. During a recent ceremony in connection with the 35th SAARC Charter day, Secretary Foreign Affairs Sohail Mahmood said the “SAARC charter day reminds us of the resolve made to fight poverty, illiteracy and disease.”

He pointed out that the South Asian region was faced with multiple challenges and the regional countries need to frame a collective strategy to cope with them.    

Aisha Farooqui said the regular SAARC summit should also be held in Islamabad at the earliest. SAARC Summit is held in different South Asian nations, every 12-18 months.  The first SAARC Summit was held in Bangladesh, in 1985. The SAARC Summit, in 2016, was to be held in Pakistan but India boycotted following the Uri attack that killed 19 Indian soldiers in Held Kashmir.  The SAARC summit 2016 was finally cancelled as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Maldives followed India’s decision to boycott the summit.

Last September, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi attended the Saarc council of foreign ministers meeting in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.

India’s then external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj also attended the meeting. As the meeting ended, the Indian minister left quickly without answering questions from the reporters. Later, Qureshi accused India of creating obstacle in regional cooperation. He said the attitude of only one country is hampering the spirit of the Saarc.

The major objectives of the Saarc are: To quicken the economic growth, social progress, and cultural development, to develop the welfare of the people of South Asia, to promote their quality of life and to promote mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of the problems of one another.

Aisha Farooqui said Pakistan greatly valued the SAARC process. “We believe it is a regional organization that is of benefit to all the member states. Unfortunately, we are faced with the situation where the process is hindered because of a certain member. However, this is something on our radar,” she said.


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