Pakistan responds positively to Modi’s offer of video conferencing on coronavirus

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ISLAMABAD: In a late-night development, Pakistan on Friday responded positively to the proposal by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, calling for the video conference of the leadership of South Asian Association Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries to discuss how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Originated in China late last year, COVID-19, a mysterious pneumonia-like disease caused by a novel coronavirus, has so far claimed over 5,200 lives while hitting more than 130 countries around the world.

Out of total of 140,000 infected, around 80,000 have so far recovered.

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Modi, using his Twitter handle, sprang a surprise when he called for coordinated efforts by SAARC countries to deal with novel coronavirus earlier in the day. His offer was unexpected given the fact that India, under his rule, tried to sideline the regional organization, whose progress has often been marred by the acrimonious relationship between Pakistan and India.

Responding to the offer, Foreign Office Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui acknowledged that the threat of COVID-19 required coordinated efforts at the global and regional levels.

“We have communicated that SAPM on Health [Dr. Zafar Mirza] will be available to participate in the video conference of SAARC member countries on the issue,” she tweeted.

It is not clear how India would respond to Pakistan’s offer since Modi called the conference at the leadership level. But nevertheless, the development is seen as significant as the two neighbors have little or no channels of communication for over a year now.

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On Thursday, the FO spokesperson said Pakistan was ready to cooperate and extend any assistance to its neighbors including India to deal with the coronavirus. The number of coronavirus in Pakistan and India is low but there is a threat of a rise in the infected people. India already confirmed that two people died because of coronavirus while a number of cases in Pakistan rose to 28, though, no death has been reported yet.

Meanwhile, Modi’s refocused on SAARC is seen as a departure from his four-year-old policy where he tried to ignore the regional grouping comprising Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal and Afghanistan.

The primary reason for Modi’s approach was to isolate Pakistan in the region. It was because of this reason that Pakistan could not hold the SAARC summit due in November 2016.

The relationship between Pakistan and India continued to deteriorate in recent years particularly after the Pulwama attack in February last year and abrogation of the special status of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K).

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