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Pakistan Boycotts SAARC Trade Video-Conference

by Newsweek Pakistan

In statement, Foreign Office says it chose to skip the meeting because India and not the SAARC Secretariat arranged it

Pakistan on Wednesday boycotted a virtual conference of trade officials from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations, claiming meetings such as this were only effective if they were spearheaded by the group’s secretariat and not a single nation such as India.

“Since the SAARC Secretariat was not part of today’s video-conference, Pakistan chose not to participate,” read a statement issued by the Foreign Office.

The meeting of trade officials from the eight-member SAARC was convened to discuss the impact of COVID-19 in the region and determine a common strategy to cope with the crisis. It was a follow-up to a summit-level interaction from last month, which was attended by Pakistan—though Islamabad was the only nation to send a health minister instead of the country head as did the other nations.

During the video-conference, Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza raised the continued lockdown in India-held Kashmir and sought the easing of restrictions to allow Kashmiris access to healthcare amid the pandemic.

Despite Pakistan’s repeated insistence that any regional effort to fight the virus should be spearheaded by the SAARC secretariat based in Nepal, India has continued to take center-stage. While the Foreign Office statement did not explicitly admit it, observers say the primary reason for Pakistan pulling out the video-conference was the tensions between the two neighbors.

In its statement, the Foreign Office said that it believes SAARC provides an important platform for regional cooperation, including in emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and its wider social and economic fallout.

The SAARC Secretariat, it continued, “provides the requisite convening platform, institutional framework and support structure for essential coordination and follow-up.” In the absence of the SAARC Secretariat’s leadership, said the statement, Pakistan did not believe the video-conference would be particularly effective.

“In order for the SAARC process to move forward, the SAARC Secretariat must be enabled to play its due role in any event or activity being organized under SAARC auspices,” it read. “At a time when the region is facing unprecedented challenges, all the available institutional frameworks must be optimally utilized.”

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