ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Wednesday refused to participate in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) virtual conference of trade officials, saying such meetings should have been led by the group’s secretariat instead of India.
The meeting of trade officials from eight-member SAARC was convened to discuss the impact of COVID-19 in the region and how the forum could come up with a common strategy.
A statement issued by the Foreign Office (FO) on Wednesday gave a detailed explanation as to why it opted out of the conference.
“Being a founding member, Pakistan believed that SAARC provides an important platform for regional cooperation,” the statement read.
“The role of the secretariat assumes further salience in emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and its wider social and economic fallout,” it said.
The statement said as, in the case of other regional and international organisations, the SAARC secretariat also provides the requisite convening platform, institutional framework and support structure for essential coordination and follow-up.
“Activities such as today’s trade officials’ video conference could only be effective if spearheaded by the SAARC secretariat. Since the secretariat was not part of today’s video conference, Pakistan chose not to participate,” Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui explained.
She said for the SAARC process to move forward, its secretariat must be enabled to play its due role in any event or activity being organised under the SAARC auspices.
“At a time when the region is facing unprecedented challenges, all the available institutional frameworks must be optimally utilised,” she added.