The video conference of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) leaders to frame a strategy to counter coronavirus will be held today.
Top leaders of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka agreed to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's suggestion hours after he made it.
But Pakistan, after midnight on Friday, announced that Zafar Mirza, the special adviser on health to Prime Minister Imran Khan, would join the video conference, says Hindustan Times.
The heads of government of the other six Saarc members are expected to join the video conference.
Responding to Modi's offer, Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui acknowledged that the threat of Covid-19 required coordinated efforts at the global and regional level.
Pakistan's decision to field only an adviser to the prime minister has sparked debate. However, Zafar is leading his country's campaign against the virus. He has been actively engaging with neighbouring countries in the fight against coronavirus as well – be that Iran or China.
"It is not clear how India would respond to Pakistan's offer since Modi called the conference at the leadership level. Nevertheless, the development is seen as significant as the two neighbours have little or no channels of communication for over a year now," says Pakistan-based newspaper Express Tribune.
Modi will lead India at the video conference tomorrow, where the Saarc nations will chalk out a joint strategy to fight coronavirus, said India's External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.
Prime Minister Modi reached out to the eight-member regional grouping on Friday and pitched for a video conference among the leaders of the Saarc.
"Modi's offer was unexpected given that his government has tried to sideline the regional organisation on multiple occasions. The annual Saarc meeting is in limbo for five years now, due to India's refusal to attend a meeting in Pakistan," says Pakistan Today.
But the Saarc charter says that its member states should meet once a year or more, and when considered necessary by the members.
As per data from the World Health Organisation, there are 126 Covid-19 cases in the Saarc region, which includes Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Meanwhile, Pakistan has recorded 20 cases so far.
Saarc comprises 3 percent of the world's area, 21 percent of the world's population, and 3.8 percent - $2.9 trillion - of the global economy.