Coronavirus: The Linchpin to the Revival of SAARC

Dr. Pravhat Lama, Raja Peary Mohan College, Uttarpara, Hooghly, West Bengal, India

Dr. Pravhat Lama
Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science
Raja Peary Mohan College, Uttarpara, Hooghly, West Bengal, India

Coronavirus: The Linchpin to the Revival of SAARC

The coronavirus that began from China has rapidly spread to almost all the countries of the world except in the region of Antarctica. The World Health Organization (WHO) declares it as a pandemic, and the whole world is at red alert. The pandemic virus with such magnitude recognizes no political borders thereby making it a global crisis.

To curtail the catastrophic impact that the spread of the pandemic virus will cause in the South Asian region, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi mooted the idea for video conferencing with all the heads of the eight members of the SAARC to be held on  March 15, 2020.

The objective of the conference was to collectively outline a strong strategy to combat the challenges laid down by the virus which primarily meant to be agile and take precautionary measures in advance in order to stop its spread. Furthermore, it was to lay down plans to strengthen the existing infrastructure as well as create new infrastructures to deal with the infected cases. 

South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established in the year 1985 and since its inception SAARC had a total of 18th Summits. The last one that is the 18th Summit was held in Kathmandu (Nepal) in 2014. The 19th Summit was to be hosted by Pakistan (Islamabad), 2016 but it got canceled when India boycotted the summit meeting on the account of a terrorist attack on the Indian army camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir. The boycott of India was also supported by other nations as a result the meeting was canceled.

Seeing SAARC from the prism of other regional organizations of the world, it can be said that it had limited success. Delving into the initial drive for the formation of the SAARC, the very idea was mooted out by Bangladesh and then it was supported by other smaller states of the region like Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka and two of its members that is, India, one of the biggest members of the region followed by Pakistan was unwilling to be part of the regional organization.

Both countries have been in conflict with each other since the partition of the country in 1947. Their unfriendly relationship became a major stumbling block for the small initiator countries to bring the two countries to join hands in the formation of the SAARC. However, the two countries keeping their differences aside decided to join hands with the small countries to establish a regional organization named SAARC that would address the challenges faced by the region and to help the overall development of the region.

Apart from the conflictual relations between India and Pakistan, other nations of the region also had differences with India and among themselves. Over the years India’s bilateral relations with other nations of the region have gradually improved or the conflicts have been minimized, also other nations have improved their relationships among themselves. 

But the conflictual relations between India and Pakistan did not improve and at times the relation severed drastically leading to war. India-Pakistan relation has been the most important factor that has barred SAARC from functioning well and gaining full-fledged success. 

The oath ceremony of PM of India Narendra Modi in 2014, in which all the heads of the members of the SAARC were invited to attend the function. This gave the vibrations that India aspires to build a better and stronger relationship with its neighboring friends. This also gave hope and was assumed that it would act as a positive impetus for the functioning and growth of SAARC. 

However, it was short-lived due to the terrorist attack at Uri in the Indian army camp in Jammu & Kashmir. Resulting in cancellation of the 19th SAARC summit that was to be held at Islamabad (Pakistan). Terrorism has been the main catalyst for the conflictual relationship between India and Pakistan and this has also created reverberations on the functioning of SAARC. After the cancellation there has been a stalemate in the functioning of SAARC with no clear instruction as from when will it be revived.

Since the last summit there has not been a general or specific cause or a common ground, or there has not been an initiator to bring all the members of SAARC together. Though, the video conference that was held on March 15, 2020 is not a summit but for the first time since the last 18th summit in 2014, the heads of the member countries have come together on one platform (virtual) for a noble and humanitarian cause. 

The initiative of video conferencing by the India PM Modi to combat the pandemic virus that knows no political boundaries can be said to be a step for the revival of SAARC. Heads of all the members states participated except the head of Pakistan. Pakistan was represented by a special aide of health to the PM of Pakistan. 

During the video conferencing the Indian Prime Minister started and stated that all the SAARC leaders have to collectively work to fight against the spread of the pandemic virus in the region. Further, to combat the crisis the Indian PM put forwarded many proposals to the members of the SAARC. 

Important proposals were the creation of the COVID-19 Emergency fund on the basis of voluntary contributions from the members and India’s initial contribution would be US$ 10 million. India also pledged to set up a rapid response team of doctors, specialist and arrange for testing equipment, online training capsules would also be set up to impart online training to emergency staff. 

Video conference of doctors and medical professionals review will be done in one week or ten days so as to seek and consider for specific measures and best practices in SAARC states to combat the pandemic virus. Sharing of Disease Surveillance software in the integrated Health Information Platform and the training to use the MIS system so that all the SAARC members can also use it. This was an important initiative of PM Modi to engage all the members of the SAARC so as to collectively combat the pandemic virus. 

SAARC, since its inception faced myriad problems which in turn affected its functioning. The most prominent and perpetual barrier has been the conflictual relation between India and Pakistan. The cancellation of the 19th Summit meeting without a specific date for revival was also due to the conflict between India and Pakistan on the issues of Indian security caused by terrorist activities.

Keeping aside the differences, when the whole world is battling against the coronavirus, the initiative of the Indian PM of video conferencing can be seen as the initial step for the revival of SAARC back to normalcy. As one of the biggest members such a step of India will be a confidence booster for SAARC. A collective effort by all the members will not only help to prevent the spread of the pandemic virus in the South Asian region but will also open the door for the members to once again start the SAARC.

About the Author:

Pravhat Lama (ORCID: 0000-0001-7096-8947) is an Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science at Raja Raja Peary Mohan College, Uttarpara, Hooghly, West Bengal, India. Completed Ph.D. from Centre for East Asian Studies, JNU, New Delhi. Specialization on food security issues, India- Japan Relations, Japan-South Asian relations. Has published papers on reputed international journals and edited books.

Cite this Article:

Lama, P., "Coronavirus: The Linchpin to the Revival of SAARC", IndraStra Global Vol. 06, Issue No: 05 (2020), https://www.indrastra.com/2020/05/Coronavirus-Linchpin-to-Revival-of-SAARC-006-05-2020-0030.html, ISSN 2381-3652


References: 

1) At SAARC Video Conference, PM Modi Calls for Joint Strategy to combat Coronavirus, available at https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-atsaarc-video-conference-pm-modi-calls-for-joint-strategy-to-combat-coronavirus 

2) Delinic,Tomislav. (2009), “SAARC-25 Years of Regional Integration in South Asia”, Regional Programme Political Dialogue Asia. 

3) Five things to know about the COVID 19 SAARC video conference, available at https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/five-things-to-know-about-the-covid-19- saarc-videoconference/story. 

4) Obino, Francisco. (2009), “SAARC: The Political Challenge for South Asia and Beyond”, Economic and Political Weekly”, 44(9): 118-125.\ 

5) Malik, Nikita. (2013), “SAARC: United Dream or Regional Nightmare”, Southeast Review of Asian Studies, 35:204-217. 

6) Pak uses SAARC video conference on coronavirus to raise Kashmir, calls for lifting of 'lockdown” available at https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/pakistan-saarc-videoconference-coronavirus-raise-kashmir-calls-lifting-lockdown. 

7) Pakistan PM's aide to participate in SAARC video conference on coronavirus, available at https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/pakistan-pms-aideto-participate-in-saarc-video-conference-on-coronavirus. 

8) Ponnat, Joseph, Sijo and Veranani, Mathew, Santosh. (2009), “SAARC and Crisis of Regional Collaboration in South Asia”, A Journal of International Studies and Analysis, 3(1): 78-106. 

9) Press Release: The Leaders of the members states of the South Asian Association Cooperation (SAARC) held a video conference on 15 March, 2020 to discuss measures to contain the spread of Covid 19 in the region, accessed form http://saarcsec.org/news/detail_front/pres-release- on 26th March, 2020. 

10) Section One: Government of India Covid-19 Initiatives, available at https://www.indianembassysantiago.gov.in/page/display/164. 11) Sharma, Kant, Sheel. (2011), “South Asian Regionalism: Prospects and Challenges”, Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, 6(3): 305-314.

12) US and Russia hail Modi’s video-conference with SAARC leaders over coronavirus, available at https://theprint.in/diplomacy/us-and-russia-hail-modis-video-conferencewith-saarc-leaders-over-coronavirus. 

13) Video conference of SAARC leaders on Coronavirus available at https://www.narendramodi.in/watch-live

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IndraStra Global: Coronavirus: The Linchpin to the Revival of SAARC
Coronavirus: The Linchpin to the Revival of SAARC
Dr. Pravhat Lama, Raja Peary Mohan College, Uttarpara, Hooghly, West Bengal, India
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