Coronavirus: Pakistan raises Kashmir issue during SAARC video conference, says all J-K curbs should be lifted (Photo Credit: ANI/Twitter)
The Pakistan representative on Sunday again raised the Kashmir issue during a video conference of SAARC leaders initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying restrictions in J&K should be lifted to deal with the novel coronavirus. 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.
Calling for an immediate lifting of the lockdown, Pakistan Minister of Health Zafar Mirza said: "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."
Apart from Mirza and Modi, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Bhutanese premier Lotay Tshering, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, participated in the video conference.
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.
"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 in the disputed territory must be lifted immediately. Opening up communications and movement would allow the distribution of medical supplies and enable containment and relief efforts to proceed," Mirza said.Â
The video conference which was attended by the national leaders of all the SAARC countries was not attended by Pakistan PM Imran Khan. Instead, Khan sent his close aide Dr Zafar Mirza.