In an unusual move, Pakistan on Thursday supported Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s five proposals on making South Asia a Covid-19 free region.
Official sources told IANS that at the health secretary-level SAARC virtual workshop held on the management of Covid-19, where Pakistan was invited, there was a complete consensus on Prime Minister Modi’s ideas.
In his address to the SAARC officials earlier on Thursday, Modi had made a strong pitch for regional cooperation in combating Covid-19. He had proposed the member countries to consider creating a special visa scheme for regional doctors and nurses so that they can travel quickly within the region during health emergencies at the request of the receiving countries.
He also recommended the civil aviation ministries of the member countries coordinate a regional air ambulance agreement for medical contingencies. His third suggestion for the SAARC was to create a regional platform for collating, compiling and studying the data for the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines among the region’s population.
Modi also suggested the creation of a regional network for promoting technology-driven epidemiology for preventing future pandemics. Lastly, he proposed that the SAARC members should go beyond Covid-19 and share their successful public health policies and schemes with each other.
“From India, Ayushman Bharat and Jan Aarogya schemes may be useful case studies for our friends in the region. Such collaborations can become the pathway for greater regional cooperation among us in other areas too,” the Prime Minister said in his address.
“After all, we share so many common challenges — climate change, natural disasters, poverty, illiteracy, and social and gender imbalances — but we also share the power of centuries-old cultural and people to people linkages,” he added.
Modi further said, “If we focus on all that unites us, our region can overcome not only the present pandemic but our other challenges too. If the 21st century is to be the Asian century, it cannot be without greater integration among the countries of South Asia and the Indian Ocean island countries. The spirit of regional solidarity that you have shown during the pandemic has proven that such integration is possible.”
Official sources said that all the SAARC countries, including Pakistan, supported Modi’s five proposals and offered to hold a structured discussion for regional cooperation on his proposals to take them forward.
All of them agreed that there is a need for such cooperation on a regional basis for fighting pandemics. Also, all the countries (except Pakistan which has not received vaccines) thanked India and the Prime Minister for Covid-19 vaccine supplies.
SAARC is a grouping of South Asian countries including India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Pakistan’s support to Prime Minister’s proposals assumes significance in view of the fact that Islamabad-New Delhi relations have deteriorated badly since 2016.
As a result, India had stayed away from the SAARC till last year when Modi took the initiative to bring the forum together through a virtual summit over the coronavirus pandemic. While Islamabad refused to participate, Modi had proposed the creation of an emergency fund to fight the pandemic at the time.