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To block Indian Covid-19 initiatives, Pak seeks to bring issues under SAARC sec…

India’s decision of keeping control of activities that emerged from the video conference of SAARC leaders, which was convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 15, had helped New Delhi move faster on Covid-19-related matters.(PTI PHOTO.)

India’s engagements with SAARC members on Covid-19 related matters are stand-alone events whereas Pakistan has sought to bring all issues under the SAARC secretariat in a bid to block Indian initiatives, people familiar with developments said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Pakistan had skipped a video conference of senior trade officials of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), saying it chose not to participate since the SAARC secretariat wasn’t involved in organising it.

The people cited above, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said India’s decision of keeping control of activities that emerged from the video conference of SAARC leaders, which was convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 15, had helped New Delhi to move much faster and without any hindrances on Covid-19-related matters.

Also Read | Pak skips virtual Saarc meet on overcoming Covid-19 impact on regional trade

“We have described these activities as being stand-alone and outside the SAARC calendar of approved activities,” said one of the people cited above.

“We regard the present activities as events under extraordinary Covid-19 circumstances focussed only on jointly dealing with challenges in the SAARC region in a result-oriented way, without being bound by any procedural formalities that could prove to be constraints,” the person added.

On the other hand, Pakistan has been trying to bring all Covid-19-related interactions under the formal SAARC umbrella by involving the SAARC secretariat, which is based in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, the people said.

This was an attempt to score narrow political goals at a time when the people of the region are facing the Covid-19 crisis, they said.

Also Read | SAARC health professionals to hold video conference to discuss Covid-19

“By trying to get Covid-19-related interactions under the SAARC umbrella, they will get a free hand to block all our initiatives and proposals by using the SAARC Charter provisions and rules of procedure, including application of the principle of consensus for drafting the agenda and the outcome document, and for the concurrence of all member states for each and every thing every step of the way,” the person cited above said.

Under the SAARC Charter, all issues have to be decided by consensus. This has often affected the working of the eight-member grouping created in December 1985. Pakistan’s opposition, mainly due to its differences with India, has held up numerous initiatives.

Over the past few weeks, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, has called for all Covid-19-related initiatives to be placed under the SAARC secretariat during his telephone conversations with counterparts from other SAARC states.

Wednesday’s virtual meeting of SAARC trade officials was a follow-up to a video conference of leaders of the eight SAARC states on March 15. At that time, Pakistan was the only country not to be represented by its head of government.

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