A tweet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi resulted in the first-ever virtual summit of SAARC leaders on March 15. Their deliberations reflected a recognition of the serious menace posed by COVID-19 and the need for robust regional cooperation to overcome it. What has happened to this innovative exercise in health diplomacy since then?
Those who hastened to dismiss the video conference as a mere show may have been disappointed. Considering that SAARC has been dormant for several years due to regional tensions, it is worth stressing that the fight against COVID-19 has been taken up in right earnest through a series of tangible measures.
First, all the eight member-states were represented at the video conference — all at the level of head of state or government, except Pakistan. The Secretary General of SAARC participated. They readily agreed to work together to contain the virus, and shared their experiences and perspectives. Second, India’s proposal to launch a COVID-19 Emergency Fund was given positive reception.
Within days, all the countries, except Pakistan, contributed to it voluntarily, bringing the total contributions to $18.8 million. Although it is a modest amount, the spirit of readily expressed solidarity behind it matters.