Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a video conference with SAARC leaders on chalking out a plan to combat the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus, in New Delhi | PTI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a video conference with SAARC leaders on chalking out a plan to combat the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus, in New Delhi | PTI
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Decisions are seldom made at conferences. Platforms such as the Munich Security Conference or the Shangri-La Dialogue are never used to announce policy – they’re networking events. Which is why a video conference on COVID-19 for SAARC nations was never going to be a meeting where decisions were arrived at. It was more of a grandstanding occasion minus the networking. Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered $10 million to start an emergency fund to fight coronavirus in South Asia. So, what were the positives and negatives?


Also read: India pledges $10 million as SAARC leaders join hands to fight coronavirus


The upside and Pakistan

From an Indian point of view, there are two positives.

One, India has assumed leadership of the South Asian charge against COVID-19. This is appropriate given the reported infection levels is still surprisingly low and the commensurate mass mobilisation, precautionary measures and mass evacuations that India carried out. This posited India as a natural leader. Given how irrelevant the South Asia block has become of late, the video conference served more as a diplomatic bolster rather than an actual organisational meeting.

The second great benefit was that, as expected, Pakistan came to the table churlish and petty, and ended up confirming two Indian theories. First, Imran Khan is a zero substance, non-serious Ken doll whose only value addition is rhetoric. This was amply demonstrated by his choice of representative to the conference – a junior adviser to the PM on health. In doing so, he proved that Pakistan doesn’t take COVID-19 pandemic seriously, and that he is unworthy of being taken seriously as a leader. It showed that Pakistan doesn’t treat any of the SAARC leaders with respect, given that a snub to the Indian Prime Minister was also a collective snub to all the other heads of government present. Pakistan has no interest in any kind of regional cooperation, its single point agenda being Kashmir, which it raised at the video conference.

This then confirmed India’s contention that its preferred format of SAARC-minus one (the one being Pakistan) is genuine and valid. The irony was that India didn’t even have to make this point verbally, Pakistan hit the shovel on its own foot. While India offered help, and other countries offered useful suggestions, Pakistan neither offered help nor ideas.


Also read: How 5 of the worst-hit countries around the world are responding to coronavirus outbreak


The downside and China

The negatives were also on show, if anyone bothered to look. India’s assistance package hasn’t exactly been commensurate with our big power claims. An offer of $10 million is pittance, at best. While I highly appreciate the Modi government focussing its resources, expertise and equipment at home, it doesn’t look very good when one of the world’s major pharmaceutical hubs isn’t offering significant assistance in the form of drugs and masks.

Given the open borders between Nepal, Bhutan and India – borders that were never really policed and consequently, not equipped for such policing – or the highly porous Bangladesh border, it was also a tactical mistake to not offer more aid.

Bangladesh, for example, has a large migrant population in Italy – possibly the worst affected country right now. Any uncontained fallout will almost certainly spread to India and further on to Nepal and Bhutan. Similarly, Afghanistan and Pakistan have a highly porous border with the second-worst affected country in percentage terms – Iran. And COVID-19 can break the temperature borders and infect lakhs in populous South Asia.

India’s protection against a western onslaught of COVID-19 remains its bad relations and closed borders with Pakistan. Given that the novel coronavirus is the first great Information Age pandemic, we must realise that stemming the disease abroad gives us more breathing room at home. While India has banned the export of critical drugs, authorising a limited amount to Israel, China is supplying masks and medicines to both Iran and Italy, even though it is the origin point of this disease and the worst affected in absolute numbers. China incidentally did this for profit and without a video conference.

Perhaps, the measure of this SAARC video conference then lies in the fact that while it showed up Pakistan as a third-rate power with regional delusions, it equally showed up India as a second-rung power with limited capabilities and nowhere in China’s league.

The author is a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He tweets @iyervval. Views are personal.

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29 Comments Share Your Views

29 COMMENTS

  1. Good that spoiler Pakistan is not in the funding team. What a beggar country like Pakistan can offer with it’s economy size 1/10th of Indian economy and with it’s empty ego bigger than size of smaller SAARC countries. Pakistan has nothing to offer to the world other than radical Islamic terror groups of ISI and terrorists like Osama Bin Laden etc.

  2. Be it Pakistan or India, worst part is, that a person from wealthy family is seen ruling the country most of the time. In India Rahul Gandhi is face of Congress who hardly has seen any hardship in his life. In Pakistan also story is same. Every one among these politicians are ready to migrate abroad. They are only holding back to destabilise the country into one more Syria where these politicians have nothing to lose. Only people left to suffer will be us who has no way to go. Hence we need to elevate such a person as leader of the country who has really experienced life in a below middle class way.

  3. There is very little India has to offer its neighbours in the Covid19 battle. It will be enough if India gets a handle on its own problems. It turns out that fecal shedding of virus is a real danger. The Modi government should build on its work in this area and warn people of the danger. And India should seek the help of China in setting up make-in-India ventilators on a crash basis. These can also be exported.

  4. Uninteresting article.

    You’re right, why would Pakistan give a damn about a collection of failed our failing nations.

    India is burning and falling apart while Afghanistan has 2 presidents neither of whom maybe around in 2 years after the Taliban regain control bc of the government from these corrupt foreign planted stooges.

    We humbly apologize to Nepal and Bhutan but our prime minister will not converse with a fascist nazi style government in India.

    If we need support and guidance on how to tackle coronavirus we will seek assistance from our long time ally China who has successfully tackled it.

    What this conference exposed are two things:

    1. Pakistan is not going to relent on the Kashmir issue nor is it interested in seeking advice from a shith*le like India.

    2. India ran out of library money after Modi’s failed economic and fascist social agenda.

  5. India is in starting phase and inflected numbers can rise sharply in coming days if numbers surge in India thn India is in huge problem and India still offering 10 ml dollars near about 74 crore rupee considering situation that isn’t small amount.

  6. Just because we have offered 10 million only have we become second rung leader.? This is more anti Modi antBJP view than by making our country small. If that brings happiness to the writer , let him be blessed with Corona and get treated in China.
    I

  7. The article is good, but the title is somewhat misleading. I thought that this was another Print article to denigrate India. The suggestion that India should offer material aid to SAARC countries merits consideration. If we can material to our bete noir China, why not to smaller neighbours? Anyway dear, the money is ten million USD not INR!

  8. Very patriotic article. India can do no wrong. Modi is God. As written in an Indian newspaper, India has the cure for the cornavirus, drink your own urine and luminate like fluorescent light bulb

  9. Ask him to write and focus on subject/content than PRAISING modi and slamming Pakistan. Only an idiotic bhakt would be happy with the way, it is being handled in India.

    • Where is there anything about Modi in here? Lol. Modi’s living rent free in your head to be so salty about him all the time that you can’t even read now . The article is written from the POV of India as a narion at the SAARC conference. The article literally said 10m is pittance and says it is nowhere near China. There’s nothing about praising Modi here .

  10. Human inside or outside the country, help to be given. Charity begins at home. We have to yet tackle the ominous stage 3 for which funds might be needed.

  11. Think of this video conference as a tentative sip of fruit juice to break a long fast. An acknowledgment that a regional grouping called SAARC exists, unlike BIMSTEC, which has no discernible organic character. That the subcontinent faces certain challenges that are best addressed through collaborative effort. Some emergent, like Covid 19, others long term, like climate change. That India has a natural leadership role to play. Perhaps the barrenness of recent foreign policy towards the neighbourhood has been recognised as being in need of rectification. One part of the course correction would be to instruct the loyalist media to change its jingoistic tone.

    • India has 50% of it’s population defecating in open. It’s hospitals private or otherwise are always full.people are running away from hospital Quarrantine because of unhygienic conditions. What exactly has India have on offer,?

  12. India is a terrorist state and should immediately release all the Kashmiris instead of finding faults with Pakistan. Just don’t think that money can solve anything. You don’t have one tenth the money Chinese have, and look what they have gone through. Just release the Kashmiris immediately and prove that you are not an extremist and terrorists state.

    • Hey if we don’t have 1/10 money of what Chinese have its ok but you don’t have 1/100th what we have so ot better to look after your country than to india’s Kashmir

    • ” India is a terrorist state ” and this is the defence you’ve brought forward for pakistan , which let me remind you is in grey list of FATF, the name itself is self explanatory , india’s forex reserve is 1/6 th of Chinese forex reserve and 40 times of that of Pakistan, again ignorance much !! Internet services were restored more than a week ago meanwhile 144 has been imposed in pakistan . Come out of your bubble .

    • Porkistan is on the verge of being declared a terrorist state……at world financial body……..I think u don’t read world news ,,, ,,,so bad

    • Osama bin Laden was found in Pakistan not in India so Pakistan is a terrorist and a bull shit country right!!!.

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