A day after Pakistan boycotted a SAARC meeting on handling the COVID-19 crisis, India on Friday said the “degree of seriousness of each member nation of the SAARC in collectively fighting the pandemic can be gauged by their behaviour,” in a clear reference to Islamabad’s opposition to New Delhi’s leadership in dealing with the crisis in the region.

“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,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.

On Wednesday, Pakistan had boycotted a video conference of trade officials of the SAARC countries to discuss ways to minimise the economic cost of the pandemic.

Islamabad said such initiatives could only be effective if spearheaded by the group’s secretariat instead of India.

Following this, government sources on Thursday said Pakistan is aiming to score narrow political goals by attempting to bring India’s initiatives to collectively fight the Coronavirus pandemic in the SAARC region under the formal umbrella of the grouping.

Sources said Pakistan has been angling to bring COVID-19 related interactions made under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative under formal SAARC umbrella by involving the SAARC secretariat.

This is seen as an attempt to get free hand to block India’s initiatives and proposals by using the SAARC Charter provisions, Rules of Procedure etc. including application of principle of consensus for the drafting of agenda, outcome document, concurrence of all member states for each and everything in every step of the way.

India has described its engagements with SAARC members on COVID-19 related matters as being “stand-alone” and outside the “SAARC calendar of approved activities”.

They added that India regards the present activities as events under extraordinary COVID-19 circumstances focused only on jointly dealing with the challenge in SAARC region in a result-oriented way, without being bound by any procedural formalities that could prove to be constraints.

The trade officials of the SAARC countries on Wednesday broadly agreed to identify new ways to “sustain and expand” the intra-regional trade to offset the huge economic cost of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The officials also deliberated on creating a larger framework of trade facilitation and highlighted the need to enhance the quantum of intra-SAARC trade as the pandemic is likely to have a considerable impact on the region.

The deliberations took place as a follow up to an India-initiated video conference of SAARC leaders on March 15. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had suggested in the conference that the member nations of the bloc should come together to jointly fight the pandemic.

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.

Meanwhile, it is reported that Pakistan has pledged to contribute $3 million in South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) COVID-19 Emergency Fund to support regional efforts in the fight against the global pandemic.

“While communicating Pakistan’s decision to the Saarc Secretariat, it has been conveyed that all proceeds of the fund should be administered by the Saarc Secretariat and that the modalities for the fund’s utilisation should be finalised through consultations with the member states as per the Saarc Charter,” The Express Tribune quoted the Foreign Office as saying in a statement on Thursday.

Pakistan is the last to make a contribution. The 15 March video conference was not attended by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. He had nominated his Special Adviser on Health Zafar Mirza to participate in it.

India has pledged $10 million, Sri Lanka $5 million, Bangladesh $1.5 million, Nepal $1 million, Afghanistan $1 million, the Maldives $200,000 and Bhutan $100,000.