Politics Over Pandemic: Bonhomie Remains Elusive Even as SAARC Tries to Fight Covid-19 Together

Ghughuti Bulletin


New Delhi: The virtual SAARC summit held on March 15, initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, led to questions on whether got it would signal a new lease of life for the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation. Top government sources at the time had said it is too early to predict. But it increasingly appears that it may indeed not be the case.

Government sources have called the virtual meeting of the trade officials that took place on Wednesday as stand-alone and outside the SAARC calendar of approved activities. This meeting, though, was initiated by India itself and Pakistan did not attend.

Pakistan in an official statement said that the meeting would be effective only “if spearheaded by the SAARC secretariat. Since the SAARC secretariat was not part of today’s (Wednesday’s) video conferencing, Pakistan chose not to participate.”

India, on the other hand, believes that formal procedural formalities could prove to be a constraint. Sources pointed out that by trying to get Covid-19 related interactions under the SAARC umbrella, Pakistan will get a free hand to block all of India’s initiatives and proposals by using the SAARC Charter provisions, rules of procedure, including using application of principle of consensus for drafting of agenda and outcome document.

In the meeting on Wednesday, the trade officials decided to mitigate the adverse impact of the novel coronavirus on trade. Several specific issues were addressed like provisional clearance of imports at preferential duty with suitable conditions, provisional acceptance of digitally signed certificates of origin, acceptance of scanned copies of documents for clearance of imports by customs and release of payments by banks.

Though SAARC foreign ministers traditionally continue to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, a summit level meeting has not happened since 2016. India had boycotted the summit to be held in Pakistan that year after the Uri terror attack. Other countries followed suit and boycotted the summit as well.

During the virtual summit owing to Covid-19 in March, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was the only head of government/state missing. Pakistan had nominated the PM’s advisor on health Zafar Mirza for the video-conferencing. In fact, even at that meeting, the Pakistan minister raised the Kashmir issue towards the fag end. Sources in the India government had called it “churlish”.

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