Placing the entire nation under a draconian lock down, Italy is scrambling to fight against a minuscule enemy—the coronavirus.
A struggling Italy sought assistance from fellow countries- 26 other members of the European Union. But none responded prompting critics to question the sincerity of the relationship among the EU members.
Close at home, in the South Asian region- we just observed a dramatic, but significant political development. Saarc leaders, in response to an offer by Narendra Modi, India's premier, joined a video conference on Sunday and pledged to unite and fight together against the deadly virus to keep the people in the region safe.
The way they joined hands together readily doing away with any formality is noteworthy. Now the major challenge for Saarc is whether it can deliver on the pledges made by its leaders.
History does not offer much hope about the dysfunctional body- Saarc.
Saarc leaders could not hold the pending summit postponed four years ago.
The three decades old organisation could not do justice to its name—association of regional cooperation— mainly due to the enmity between the two nuclear member countries- India and Pakistan- in the past decades.
Now, it's a virus that has offered an opportunity for the regional leaders to reduce the enmity and gap created between them and for solving their pending bilateral issues and to "unite together, act together and succeed together" in the battle against the virus.
In this endeavour, the challenge before Mod is much bigger than his fellow leaders in the region--his government's controversial citizenship law which is discriminatory towards Muslims living in India and in the region.
In such a situation, Modi has to walk the extra-mile to build confidence among the people in the region. His initiative to hold the video conference is praiseworthy.
The virus is testing the administrative efficiency of the countries affected by it.
Does Saarc has that administrative prowess to deliver on its leaders' promises to fight the unprecedented pandemic?
There is a stark difference between the EU and Saarc.
The EU has evolved as a vibrant body over the decades from the European Coal and Steel Community. Every citizen of a member country is now considered a citizen of the EU. They have a common parliament, known as the European Parliament, judiciary, banks and other financial institutions. It has become a supra state.
Yet, when one of its member, Italy, is fighting a crucial battle, none of the fellow countries in the EU came up with any help for it.
Strongly criticising the abdication of responsibilities of EU countries, Elisabeth Braw, a security expert at Royal United Service Institute, writes in Foreign Policy: "EU countries shameful lack of solidarity with the Italians points a larger point: What would European countries do if one of them faced an even greater crisis?"
The world is fast being isolated both socially and economically. But countries in the EU are getting farther apart in their relationships. The one reason behind this may be that every EU country is under virus attack.
Of them, Italy has been worst hit. Virus is spreading fast in France, Spain and Germany. All the governments have their own battle too.
The situation in our region is not much different. All the eight South Asian nations are affected by the virus though on smaller scales. Tension and panic run high. None can certainly say that the spread of the virus will be contained anytime soon. We don't know the exact situation as we are conducting very few tests for coronavirus.
Fighting the virus should not be considered a battle for only the affected country. If your neighbour's house is on fire, your house is not safe either. This is a grave situation and all should unite together to fight it.
The bottom line is for a combined effort to fight a battle is if any of the neighbours fails to combat the virus, this may bring down others.