In the SAARC video conference conducted by the Prime Minister Modi on 15th Mar, all national leaders participated, except for Pakistan, whose Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, Zafar Mirza, attended on his behalf. Since the announcement of the video conference by Modi, Pak was in a quandary. It did not want to indicate that it was against the very existence of SAARC, which was anyway dead as India had refused to attend any summit in Pak, though it is still the nation expected to hold the next meeting if it ever happens.
Simultaneously, Imran did not want to be seen participating in an event being organized by India, as it was him who had lowered diplomatic relations with India and sworn not to upgrade till India rolled back the abrogation of Article 370. Further, Modi would be chairing the video conference and Imran would have been a participant. Imran could not take any decision on participating on his own and was compelled to call a National Security Council (NSC) meeting on the subject. The NSC nominated Mirza.
Mirza in his exuberance, as Pak had 30 positive cases at that time, spoke on how Pak had contained the virus. He was unaware or possibly had not been briefed that the virus was just emerging in the region. He ignored the fact that close links with China, presence of Chinese labour in the country, a large border with Iran, poor state of the economy and a failing health care system would make Pak a hotbed for the coronavirus. Within days the number of cases jumped manifold andit is still considered just a tip of the iceberg. Pak is aware that it would never be able to cope with the epidemic on its own. It neither has resources, funds nor facilities. However, it axed its own foot by its actions.
Dr Shobha Luxmi, an infectious diseases specialist at Dow University of Health Sciences, Karachi stated, ‘Our hospitals are not planned for it, people are not trained, isolation facilities are not there and there is no contingency plan. The system is as old as 1947 and we never thought to revise or improve it.’ Dr Ahsan Jamil, deputy general manager, clinical affairs, medical directorate at The Indus Health Network in Pakistan stated, ‘The ground realities clearly indicate that our capacities are restricted and something on a war footing is needed as a desperate measure.’ Even Imran warned the nation to be prepared for an epidemic.
While all SAARC leaders appreciated Indian efforts at establishing a USD 10 Million fund for handling the virus and accepted Indian offers of medical assistance, Pak wasted the moment to raise Kashmir. Its comment on opening restrictions on Kashmir only confirmed its fixation on the region.
The Indian foreign office commented on Pak’s actionand stated, ‘We believe that the platform was to bring the countries of the region together to address the pandemic. This was not a political platform, but a humanitarian one, and Pakistan misused it.’This fixation on Kashmir has harmed Pakistan in every sphere, diplomatic, economic and now even in a medical emergency.
With Coronavirus cases globally on the rise, it is time for nations in specific regions to unite to fight the epidemic. The aim at present is prevention of spread of the virus and contain its economic fallout. Nations of SAARC less Pakistan are in the fight together. India has already provided medical supplies to Maldives and Bhutan as per their demands and requests of other nations in the region, less Pakistan, are in different stages of progress.
Bhutan and Nepal have contributed to the fund indicating that SAARC nations, less Pakistan are together in this fight. Pak which would also be equally entitled to assistance lost the opportunity due to its arrogant attitude and hostile approach.
The recent visit of the Pak president to China, apart from a display of solidarity, was an occasion to seek medical and financial support. Support, if any, would come with a cost as all Chinese assistance globally to combat Coronavirus is not free, unlike Indian largesse. Since the outbreak has been reported, it is only Pakistan which is begging for relief on its loans taken from almost every international agency.
Pak remains isolated for assistance even in South Asia. India has in recent days brought back its citizens from multiple foreign destinations alongside those of other SAARC nations. Pakistan’s attitude has led to no nation indicating willingness to pull its citizens out. It is the only nation which has left its citizens to die in countries where Coronavirus is rapidly spreading.
In the last few months Pak has been seeking to raise an anti-India bogey globally but to no success. It sought to bring in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) nations on the abrogation of article 370 and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) but apart from Turkey got no support. Malaysia which had earlier backed it, has now changed its approach with a change in Government. It seeks resolution with India and recasting trade ties rather than supporting Pakistan. The special OIC foreign ministers meeting on Kashmir is nowhere on the horizon. With world attention having moved to the Coronavirus, Pak has realized that it remains isolated and alone.
Imran’s continued accusations against India still did not deter India from bringing SAARC into focus. It could have easily brought forth BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal), while handling Afghanistan’s needs separately. However, by raising SAARC, Modi gave Pakistan an opportunity to rise above petty politics and seek to work together for the betterment of the population of South Asia. There were neither any riders nor pre-conditions being down. Its ignoring was Pakistan’s folly. Such an offer would never be repeated.
Pakistan should never have mixed humanitarian and medical issues with political. There is a logical time and place for all discussions. Their national hierarchy should have considered their internal shortcomings and joined the bandwagon to fight the virus, rather than letting its people suffer solely due to the dogged approach of its political and military hierarchy. It battles the crisis alone, while all other nations have joined hands to fight the epidemic.
The author is Major General (Retd)