New Delhi: Pakistan on Sunday used the SAARC nations video conference on coronavirus to raise Kashmir, with the country's State Minister of Health Zafar Mirza calling for immediate lifting of the "lockdown" there to allow virus containment measures.
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, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, participated in the video conference.
Pakistan PM Imran Khan did not participate, and instead sent Mirza, who is his Special Assistant on Health.
The underlying message of the video conference was unitedly taking on the pandemic, but Pakistan used the occasion to raise Kashmir, with Mirza calling 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 is imperative that all "lockdown" there must be lifted immediately,
"Opening up communication and movement would facilitate dissemination of information, allow distribution of medical supplies and allow containment...to proceed unimpeded," Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister on Health Mirza 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 strong strategy to fight coronavirus, which has killed nearly 5,000 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 Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister on Health Mirza 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 was its "internal matter". New Delhi has also asked Islamabad to accept the reality and stop its anti-India rhetoric.