Pak uses SAARC video-conference on coronavirus to raise Kashmir; govt sources slam Islamabad

New Delhi, Mar 15 (PTI) Pakistan used the SAARC nations' video-conference on coronavirus on Sunday to raise Kashmir, with the country's State Minister of Health Zafar Mirza calling for an immediate lifting of the 'lockdown' there to allow virus containment measures.

Government sources here said the neighbouring country's attempt to 'politicise' a humanitarian issue by its 'unwarranted' statement on Kashmir during the video-conference reflected 'very poorly' on it.

Apart from Mirza, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, Bhutanese premier Lotay Tshering, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani participated in the video-conference.

Mirza called for the 'lockdown' to be lifted in Jammu and Kashmir to deal with the coronavirus threat.

'Equity in health is a fundamental principle of public health. In this regard, let me say that it is a matter of concern that COVID-19 has been reported' from Jammu and Kashmir and in view of the health emergency, it was imperative that all 'lockdown' there must be lifted immediately, he said.

'Opening up communication and movement would facilitate dissemination of information, allow distribution of medical supplies and allow containment...to proceed unimpeded,' the Special Assistant to the Pakistani Prime Minister on Health said.

Government sources said Pakistan chose to be 'churlish' and used the video-conference for political point-scoring.

The neighbouring country sent its state minister of health, who was uncomfortable while speaking, they said.

Pakistan raising the matter reflected 'very poorly' on the country's dealing with the humanitarian issue, the sources said.

'Raising the issue was unwarranted and out of context. Pakistan attempted to politicise a humanitarian issue,' a government source said.

India could have kept Pakistan out of the video-conference, but as it was a humanitarian issue, the country was invited, the sources said.

'Every leader responded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call, but Pakistan chose to send its health minister, which reflected its lack of seriousness,' a source said.

Even the Nepalese prime minister participated in the video-conference a day after he was discharged from hospital, but Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan chose to stay away, the sources said.

When Pakistan raised Kashmir at the video-conference, nobody responded, they added.

The Pakistani minister was the only one who did not thank India for the initiative, the sources said.

Calling on the SAARC nations to set an example for the world, Modi had reached out to the eight-member regional grouping and pitched for a video-conference among its leaders to chalk out a joint strategy to fight coronavirus, which has killed over 6,000 people globally.

His appeal got a prompt response from Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa, Maldivian President Solih, Nepalese Prime Minister Oli, Bhutanese premier Tshering, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina and the Afghan government, all of whom welcomed the proposal.

Pakistan's response to the proposal came late, with the country's Foreign Office Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui saying Mirza, the Special Assistant to the Pakistani Prime Minister on Health, will be available to participate in the video-conference.

Pakistan has been trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue, but India has asserted that the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution is its 'internal matter'. New Delhi has also asked Islamabad to accept the reality and stop its anti-India rhetoric. PTI ASK/NAB MPB RC