It may appear like a far-fetched dream but the two major countries in SAARC, India and Pakistan, could join forces to fight the impending economic crisis.
The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was created to tackle the “common problems and aspirations” of the South Asian people. It was also created to look out for their welfare and assist in economic issues. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently called on SAARC to work together to form a strategy to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Regional cooperation would not only help mitigate the spread of the virus but also help with the crippling long-term effects of the economic crisis which is bound to worsen. The sooner steps are taken to mitigate the situation the sooner life for people can start to return to normal.
On March 15, the eight members of the regional bloc held a video conference to discuss a joint strategy on mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Pakistan was the only country that chose not to be represented by its head of state, but by by the Special Advisor to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on health, Dr. Zafar Mirza. India announced a COVID-19 fund and pledged $10 million towards it. Modi has suggested a portal to track virus carriers and a Rapid Response team of Indian doctors. Afghanistan pledged 1 million dollars. Pakistan later pledged three million dollars to the fund to support regional efforts and asked for the funds to be overseen by the Secretary General of SAARC. The SAARC Disaster Management Centre has also launched a website for sharing information on COVID-19 in the regional languages.
Restoring a dormant SAARC is a good idea. A large segment of the population of the world, nearly one-fifth, is represented by the South Asian countries. Mutual cooperation can help foster peace in the region. The fact that SAARC has thus far not prospered has been blamed on the strained relations between Pakistan and India. India has attributed security issues as one of the reasons it has distanced itself in the past. Both countries have also in recent days accused the other of violating cease-fire terms. The 2016 summit that was to be held in Islamabad had been cancelled due to India refusing to attend. In New York, at a meeting of SAARC foreign ministers, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, walked out in protest. He stated that Pakistan is unwilling to engage with India, “...until and unless they lift the siege (on Kashmir)...”