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Pakistan snubs regional group's meeting on Covid-19, objecting as India takes charge of conference

Pakistan snubs regional group's meeting on Covid-19, objecting as India takes charge of conference
Islamabad has boycotted a meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to discuss a collective response to Covid-19, insisting the conference must be led by its official secretariat instead of New Delhi.

While the organization “provides an important platform for regional cooperation,” the latest meeting between trade officials “could only be effective if spearheaded by the SAARC Secretariat,” a spokesperson for Pakistan’s Foreign Office said on Wednesday, referring to Nepal, which coordinates the eight-member regional bloc.

Since the SAARC Secretariat was not part of today’s video conference, Pakistan chose not to participate.

The virtual meeting was held earlier on Wednesday to discuss a common regional strategy to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the second such conference held since March. The previous call – where all eight member states were present – came after a four-year hiatus of the SAARC, prompted by intense disagreement between Islamabad and New Delhi over a 2016 terrorist attack in the disputed Kashmir region that left 19 Indian soldiers dead.

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Islamabad further explained that it would only resume participation with the SAARC when its secretariat is “enabled to play its due role in any event or activity being organized under SAARC auspices.” Pakistan, however, has proposed a future meeting between health ministers of SAARC members, suggesting the idea to counterparts in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives, but has yet to bring India or Afghanistan in on the plan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spearheaded efforts to coordinate a response to the pandemic with South Asian neighbors, calling on SAARC members to “set an example” for the world, but Islamabad has chafed at any larger leadership role for New Delhi in the bloc.

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