NEW DELHI: A South Asia fund to combat coronavirus (COVID-19) in the region, one of the poorest in the world, seems to be coming together with Sri Lanka contributing $5 million to it. All other countries in the bloc barring Pakistan have committed to the fund proposed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a video conference meet on 15 March. Modi had then announced an initial amount of $10 million to the fund to which contributions were to be made on a voluntary basis by member countries.

The video conference meet was attended by the heads of government of all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries with the exception of Pakistan which was represented by Zafar Mirza, the Special Adviser to the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. Apart from Modi, the other heads of government who joined the video conference included Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, Bangladesh premier Sheikh Hasina, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepalese Prime Minister Oli and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani.

On Monday, Shivanthi Ranasinghe, Deputy Director - International Relations & Foreign Media, in Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office told Mint that the Colombo government was earmarking $5 million for the SAARC Corona Emergency Fund.

Other countries to pledge their contributions were Bangladesh which over the weekend promised $ 1.5 million to the kitty. The announcement by made by foreign minister A.K.Abdul Momen after the go-ahead from Prime minister Sheikh Hasina

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had last week taken to Twitter to thank the governments of Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan for their contributions to the SAARC fund.

“Gratitude to @PMBhutan Dr. Lotay Tshering for his decision to contribute $100,000 to the COVID-19 Emergency Fund on behalf of the Bhutanese Government. It is wonderful to see SAARC leaders taking initiatives that are adding strength to the collective fight against Coronavirus," Modi had said in a post on Friday.

“Deeply appreciate PM @kpsharmaoli’s announcement of contribution of NPR 10 crores (approximately $ 1 million) to the COVID-19 Emergency Fund. It reflects Oli Ji’s commitment and support to the collective fight of SAARC countries against the pandemic," Modi said in a second post on Friday.

“Deeply appreciate contribution of USD 200,000 by Government of Maldives to the COVID-19 Emergency Fund. It strengthens our resolve in this collective fight against the pandemic. @ibusolih," Modi added in another post on Saturday.

Last week, Afghanistan had also pledged $1 million to the SAARC Corona fund, according to a twitter post by Afghanistan’s charge d’affaires Tahir Qadiry in New Delhi.

SAARC refers to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation – which groups together Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives. Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka besides India. Born in the mid 1980s, the grouping has little to show for itself given that progress on issues like regional integration and connectivity has been slow mainly due to infighting between India and Pakistan. Pakistan was to host a summit of SAARC leaders in 2016 but India, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh pulled out citing Pakistan’s support to terrorism as not conducive for regional cooperation. No summit of SAARC has been held since.

India’s COVID-19 initiative for SAARC countries had been praised by US defence Secretary Mark Esper who had spoken to Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh last week, according to a Pentagon readout of the conversation.