India on Friday said the degree of seriousness of each member nation of the SAARC in collectively fighting the coronavirus pandemic can be gauged by their behaviour, in a clear reference to Pakistan's opposition to New Delhi's leadership in dealing with the crisis in the region.
India's reaction came a day after Pakistan pledged to contribute $3 million to the SAARC Coronavirus Emergency Fund as proposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi but demanded that any initiative to deal with the situation must be brought under the bloc's framework.
On Wednesday, Pakistan boycotted a video conference of trade officials of the SAARC countries, saying such initiatives could only be effective if spearheaded by the group's secretariat instead of India.
India has been maintaining that the initiatives taken under extraordinary circumstances are focused on jointly dealing with the pandemic without being bounded by any procedural formalities.
"It is for each SAARC member state to decide on the timing, manner and implementation of their SAARC COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund commitments. Where India is concerned, the commitment made by the prime minister is today in an advanced stage of implementation," Ministry External Affairs Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.
He was responding to a query on Pakistan's announcement of the contribution to the emergency fund and insistence that it should be utilised in accordance with the SAARC Charter.
"Assistance in material and services has been extended to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. These SAARC countries have also made early commitments to the Fund. The degree of seriousness of each nation can be gauged by their behaviour," the spokesperson said.
In a video conference on forming a joint strategy to fight COVID-19 in the SAARC region, Modi on March 15 proposed the emergency fund with an initial offer of USD 10 million from India. It is understood that India has already made the contribution.
Subsequently, Nepal and Afghanistan pledged USD 1 million each while Maldives pledged to contribute USD 200,000, Bhutan USD 100,000, Bangladesh USD 1.5 million and Sri Lanka announced to contribute USD 5 million to the fund.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is a regional grouping comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
All the SAARC member nations are reeling under adverse social and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
After Pakistan boycotted the video conference of trade officials of the SAARC, government sources said the neighbouring country was aiming to score narrow political goals by attempting to bring India's initiatives under the framework of the grouping.
"It is an attempt to score narrow political goals while people of the region are facing the Coronavirus crisis," said a source.
Wednesday's video conference took place as part of India's initiatives to jointly fight the pandemic as well as its economic and social impact on the region.
The sources said Pakistan will get a free hand to block India's initiatives if COVID-19 related interactions are brought under formal structure of SAARC.
If the initiatives are brought under the umbrella of SAARC, then Pakistan will have the option of scuttling them by pressing for the principle of consensus in drafting of agenda, outcome document and on all other related issues at every step, they said.
A series of initiatives have been taken to deal with with the pandemic as a follow up to the India-initiated video conference of SAARC leaders on March 15.
India has been considering the activities as being stand-alone and outside the "SAARC calendar of approved activities".