Pak Minister raises Kashmir issue at SAARC COVID-19 video conference, India calls it churlish

New Delhi [India], Mar 15 (ANI): It was "churlish" of Pakistan to politicise a humanitarian issue by raking up the Kashmir matter at a video conference between SAARC leaders held with an aim to chalk out a joint strategy to fight the coronavirus pandemic, Indian government sources said on Sunday.

"Pakistan sent their Health Minister who was uncomfortable in speaking. He was given a slip. It's a churlish approach. This is a humanitarian issue and Pakistan tried to politicise the humanitarian issue," the government sources said.

They criticised Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's absence from the conference, noting that the initiative witnessed the participation of leaders of all SAARC nations including Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who was discharged from the hospital on Saturday after undergoing a kidney transplant.

"Even Nepal's Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli participated a day after he was discharged from the hospital. Each leader participated from the SAARC except Pakistani PM Imran Khan," sources said.

The Pakistani side was represented by Zafar Mirza, State Minister for Health, who in his address at the conference, said that it was imperative that the lockdown in Kashmir be lifted in view of the health emergency after the coronavirus outbreak.

"It is a matter of concern that COVID-19 has been reported from Jammu and Kashmir. In view of the health emergency, it is imperative that all lockdown in the territory must be lifted immediately," Mirza said at the conference.

"Opening up communications and movement will facilitate the dissemination of information, allow distribution of medical supplies, and enable containment and relief efforts to proceed unimpeded," he added.

Restrictions have been imposed in Jammu and Kashmir following the Indian government's move to revoke Article 370 of the Constitution that accorded special status to the region.

During the conference, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had proposed the creation of an emergency fund to combat the coronavirus pandemic and pitched India's initial offer of USD 10 million for this fund.

The government sources informed that the funds from the Indian side will be available immediately.

"From Indian side, the fund will be available immediately. SAARC fund will be co-ordinated through embassies. We will take it up from there. It will be used as effectively and fast as rapidly implementable," sources said.

The funds could be used by any SAARC nations to meet the cost of immediate action amid the outbreak of the virus, Modi had said in his address.

The proposal for Sunday's video conference was put forth by Prime Minister Modi with an aim to chalk out a joint strategy to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking on the question of SAARC's revival through the initiative, government sources said, "It is too premature. It brought together the leaders of SAARC to deal with an emergency situation. If it can lead to any other initiative that is difficult to say. Pakistan's comment doesn't merit reaction. It showed what they are."

During the conference, Modi had said that India is assembling a rapid response team of doctors and specialists in India along with testing kits and other equipment.

On this, the government sources said: "India is ready to send more Rapid Response Teams to SAARC region if asked for. One fully equipped team is already in the Maldives. The Rapid Response Teams carry with them trained doctors as well as huge diagnostic equipment." (ANI)