Addressing the SAARC conference on mooting a common strategy to combat COVID-19 on Sunday, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed the initiative taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. According to Ghani, his country’s biggest vulnerability was the open border with Iran. Thereafter, he suggested various proposals such as creating a SAARC task force, a common framework for telemedicine, ensuring essential cross-border trade and India taking the lead in distance education.
Moreover, he advocated that India being a member of both SAARC and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation should try coordinating between the two organisations. As per Ghani, this would provide a reality check on whether the experience of China could be replicated in the South Asian context. The conference was also attended by Maldives President Ibrahim Solih, Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina, Bhutan PM Lotay Tshering, Nepal PM KP Sharma Oli and Special Assistant to Pakistan Prime Minister on Health Zafar Mirza.
“Thank you, Mr Prime Minister. Thank you for taking this important initiative. We are into unknown territory. Our vulnerability comes from our openness. Our great vulnerability is that we have an open border with Iran, one of the major centres and the flow cannot be stopped.”
“I have the following 5 proposals. One, modelling of diffusion impacts the scenarios in management. Unless we model the diffusion we will be facing, assumptions from China, the US or Iran are not suitable for our situation. I request a task force of SAARC to be able to do this.”
“Second, telemedicine- because the impact of this on the poor and the vulnerable is very significant. If we could create a common framework for telemedicine for diagnosis of related issues, as advances take place we will be able to coordinate. Third, as a landlocked country, which is simultaneously the heart of Asia, closing of borders while essential will result in significant problems regarding the availability of medicine, food and basic goods. If we coordinate to be able to control flows that both allows transactions to take place while focusing on essentials...”
“How do we keep women, youth, children occupied? India in South Asia is a leader in distance education. Can the satellite in India be made available so we can keep people because social distancing is necessary? In my proposal, since India is both an important member of the Shanghai Council, if we coordinate between the SAARC and Shanghai Cooperation Council- how much of the experience of China is replicable in our situations. I thank you for this opportunity.”