Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, citing the region's joint effort to resolve the COVID-19 pandemic, called for greater integration between South Asia and the island countries of the Indian Ocean to address their challenges.
PM Modi was speaking at a workshop hosted by India on "COVID-19 Management: Experience, Good Practices and Way Forward". Ten countries including Pakistan took part in this India-led initiative on COVID-19 management.
The ten countries which took part in this workshop included - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, Seychelles, and Sri Lanka barring Mauritius and Seychelles rest all are SAARC members.
"If the 21st century is to be the Asian century, it cannot be so without greater integration among the countries of South Asia and the Indian Ocean islands. The spirit of regional solidarity shown during the pandemic has proven that such integration is possible," Modi added.
Modi said in his virtual address that the spirit of cooperation between these countries is a valuable way out of this pandemic and called for similar cooperation in the ongoing deployment of vaccines.
He went to say, "Through our openness and determination, we have managed to achieve one of the lowest fatality rates in the world. Today, the hopes of our region and the world are focused on the rapid deployment of vaccines. In this too, we must maintain the same cooperative and collaborative spirit."
Second such conference since the start of the pandemic
Notably, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a SAARC conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in March last year. The meeting saw all the heads of government and state of the SAARC attending, except Pakistan. At the junior level, Pakistan was present at the meeting. The creation of the SAARC emergency fund, with India contributing $10 million to it, was one of the major takeaways of the meeting.
India reached out to several countries in the region with drugs and other assistance in the midst of the pandemic. It dispatched 75,000 MT of food help to Afghanistan to Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh via Chabahar, medical equipment, among others. Moreover, India also gifted Covid-19 vaccines to countries in the region.