Pakistan held its ground in not attending the Trade Officials Video-Conference on COVID-19 hosted by India. It is a pity that even in these extraordinary times, India is busy playing the politics of division and hate. India’s bypassing of the prescribed protocols while convening a videoconference of trade officials from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is suggestive of its attempts to exclude Pakistan from devising a regional response against COVID-19.

Unfortunately, India’s action goes against the spirit of the regional body. Pakistan rightly maintains that such meetings could only be productive if the SAARC secretariat spearheaded them. Only the secretariat can ensure impartiality in the proceedings of such meetings. We have seen in the recent past how India used its influence on the member countries of the organisation only to isolate Pakistan in the region. Considering the past actions of India, it was natural that Pakistan chose not to participate in the meeting.

Today when the role of the secretariat assumes further significance, India’s indifference to it and trying to control the organisation is unfortunate. If they keep carrying on like this, the regional body will lose all its credibility and effectiveness. Missing one conference for the sake of the organisation’s credibility is a small price to pay.

Besides, cooperation only works if it’s beyond lip service, and India continues to try and isolate us. Other countries know that we will need to unite. Nevertheless, it was also saddening to note that none of the participants reminded India that convening the videoconference was actually the prerogative of the SAARC secretariat. Such a move by any country while sidelining the secretariat would turn the organisation a toothless entity. Let’s see how long it takes before India sees it too, if at all.