This is a very crucial time when cooperation and solidarity are needed to curb the spread of COVID-19. The world now faces an uphill battle as people don’t know how deadly this virus can be.
This is the right time to revive the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which has been in ICU since 2015. India and Pakistan have seen many disputes and fought many wars since partition, in 1947. There have been many cross border skirmishes and escalations over many years. India and Pakistan didn’t hold any bilateral dialogues after the Uri attacks. India had ignored bilateral talks with Pakistan, saying terror and talks can’t go on concurrently.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to convene a video conference of the SAARC states signaled a good cause, setting aside all the differences. Pakistan took a tough stance that there would be no dialogues without a rollback of the August 5, 2019 decision where the government of India removed the special status rendered to Jammu and Kashmir by changing Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. On the same day, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill was also endorsed, which bifurcated the erstwhile state into two union territories: Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh.
Indian Prime Minister Modi’s move can be seen as a thoughtful drive to respond to China’s surging clout in the region by reasserting India’s leadership. Whatever may be the motive, but it is a good and timely initiative. Now the coronavirus in engulfing the South Asian countries. Caseloads and the number of deaths are increasing daily. The public health system and infrastructures are very weak in these regions. So, here solidarity is very essential to fight this pandemic.
South Asian integration may or may not eradicate this health crisis but it can help in collaboratively fighting this health pandemic. This kind of groupings can help nations to show solidarity with fellow nations that face crisis or disaster. This can be more effective when institutions set powerful examples by helping the fellow nations in need.
Such integrations are meaningless if the member nations are abandoned during a crisis. For example, many criticized the European Union as it didn’t render any medical assistance to Italy, which was suffering greatly due to the COVID-19. The European Union was seen as abandoning their Italian friends in the time of need and China was filling the void. The Union’s shameful lack of solidarity with Italian is surprising and condemnable.
The European Union showed a strong precedent two years ago when there was devastating forest fire spreading in Sweden. Sweden’s plea received good feedback. France sent 60 firefighters, two aircraft, Portugal provided two firefighting aircraft and. Similarly, Poland immediately delivered 130 firefighters and more than 40 trucks. Germany sent five helicopters and 53 firefighters. Italy responded well by sending two aircraft although it was itself in danger of wildfires. Various countries helped Sweden in their ways.
Such cooperation is needed during this COVID-19 pandemic. But unfortunately, there are border disputes and skirmishes between South Asian neighbors.
This isn’t the right time to brawl over territories. South Asian countries should set aside the differences and come together to fight this pandemic. If this deadly virus explodes in the densely populated South Asian countries, the disaster will engulf everyone.