Pakistan has stayed away from yet another initiative by India to train the healthcare professionals of the SAARC nations in managing the COVID-19 pandemic

The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Raipur conducted four webinars on “COVID-19 Pandemic: Prevention and Management Guidelines” for the healthcare professionals of the SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation) nations on Friday. The Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh and the AIIMS in Bhuvaneshwar will conduct webinars on other aspects related to responding to the pandemic in the coming days.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) of the Government of India arranged the capacity building programme for the healthcare professionals of the SAARC nations.

No healthcare professional from Pakistan is participating in the programme as it is being arranged by India. The Pakistan Government has been insisting that all SAARC initiatives against the COVID-19 pandemic should be spearheaded by the secretariat of the organization based in Kathmandu.

The healthcare professionals of five SAARC nations – Bhutan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal - are participating in the programme.

The Maldives did not assign any healthcare professional to participate in the programme as India sent its medical team to the island nation to help it contain the pandemic.

Islamabad had on April 9 conveyed to the SAARC Secretary General E R Weerakoon that all proceeds of the COVID-19 Emergency Fund must be administered by the secretariat and the modalities of managing it should be finalized through consultations with all the members in accordance with the charter of the organization.

The SAARC COVID-19 Emergency Fund had been set up after Modi on March 15 had held a video-conference with almost all other leaders of the South Asian bloc. Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan had not joined, but his Special Advisor Health Affairs), Dr Zafar Mirza, had represented him.

India had initiated the fund with a voluntary contribution of $ 10 million and had been followed by Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Afghanistan, which had contributed altogether $ 8.43 million more. After much dilly-dallying, Pakistan had on April 9 pledged $ 3 million to the fund, but with riders attached.

The fund had been set up to help any SAARC nation to meet the emergency expenditure to deal with the pandemic in its territory.

Pakistan had on April 8 also boycotted a video-conference the SAARC trade officials had held to discuss ways to minimize the impact of the curbs imposed to contain the pandemic on regional commerce. Aisha Farooqui, a spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan Government, had then said that Islamabad had decided to stay away from the virtual meeting as it had not been organized by the SAARC secretariat.