Will Modi’s tweets help revive SAARC?

Published On: March 13, 2020 10:35 PM NPT By: Santosh Ghimire  | @journonepali

KATHMANDU, March 13: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted today, urging the leaders of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to chalk out a strategy against coronavirus pandemic, many have expressed hope that eight-member regional block might breathe a new life.

As South Asian countries, including India, battle coronavirus pandemic, Modi took to Twitter on Friday afternoon to call on the SAARC leaders to develop strategy against COVID-19.

"I would like to propose that the leadership of SAARC nations chalk out a strong strategy to fight Coronavirus. We could discuss, via video conferencing, ways to keep our citizens healthy. Together, we can set an example to the world, and contribute to a healthier planet," Modi tweeted.

Modi's call for adopting joint strategies to overcome the threat of COVID-19 has been widely described as India's softening approach towards reviving the moribund SAARC.

Nepal’s prime minister KP Sharma Oli welcomed the idea put forth by Indian PM Modi.

Tweeting shortly after Modi’s tweet, he wrote, “I welcome the idea advanced by Prime Minister Modiji for chalking out a strong strategy by the leadership of the SAARC nations to fight Coronavirus. My government is ready to work closely with SAARC Member States to protect our citizens from this deadly disease”.

Likewise, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya RajapaksaMaldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Bhutanese PM Lotay Tshering also welcomed the idea put forth by Modi. 

SAARC Secretariat in Kathmandu also welcomed Modi's idea. 

SAARC summits have not been held since 2016 after India, one of the key actors in the SAARC, has been distancing itself from organization, accusing Pakistan of harboring cross-border terrorism. While, Pakistan has been consistently denying the accusations and blaming India for holding the SAARC process hostage.

As the current chair of the SAARC, Nepal has been consistently asking India, Pakistan and other member states to revitalize the SAARC process on several occasions. However, the SAARC process has remained stalled as India has been taking much harder approach towards it.

Amid India-Pakistan rivalry over a host of issues, New Delhi has shifted its focus from the SAARC to another regional organization Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).

However, in his Tweet today, Modi said "Together, we can set an example to the world, and contribute to a healthier planet. At various levels, governments and people are trying their best to combat it. South Asia, which is home to a significant number of the global population, should leave no stone unturned to ensure our people are healthy."

Former foreign secretary Madhuraman Acharya who is well-versed on the South Asian Affairs said on Twitter " Corona pandemic reminds once again the utility of regional cooperation within the SAARC countries Good that Nepal’s PM K P Oli, current chairperson of SAARC, has accepted the idea of India’s Prime Minister Modi for video conference to chalk out regional strategy against #COVID19"

Acharya opined that among other things, the SAARC leaders can agree to activate a “rapid response mechanism”, set up a mechanism for exchange of information designating nodal agencies and set aside at least some unused fund in the SAARC ($50 million) to start fighting the Corona pandemic regionally.

Now, the pertinent question is: Will Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan will join hands with Modi in chalking out strategies to combat COVID-19 in South Asia? Will Modi's call for SAARC leaders working together in the battle of COVID-19 also help in revitalizing the SAARC?

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