FM proposes SAARC resource pool, region-centric approach to fight common challenges

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ISLAMABAD, Sep 24 (APP): Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Thursday called upon the South Asian states to pool resources and adopt a region-centric approach in jointly addressing the common challenges of pandemic, food security, locust invasion and climate change.

“The development needs of the people of South Asia can only be fulfilled by pooling resources and taking a regional approach,” the foreign minister said in his virtual address to the informal meeting of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Council of Ministers on the sidelines of 75th United Nations General Assembly, held in New York.

Qureshi said Pakistan was ready to contribute and play its part as SAARC renewed its focus to get better prepared for the challenges.

Being a founding member of SAARC, he said Pakistan always attached great importance to the forum and remained committed to the principles and objectives of the SAARC Charter.

He assured that Pakistan would continue to play a proactive role towards the success of SAARC.

The foreign minister said as the pandemic exposed weaknesses of global healthcare systems, particularly of developing countries, it was time to remodel and develop medical systems.

He apprised the meeting that taking opportunity out of challenging situation, Pakistan manufactured its first own ventilator machine during the pandemic. Pakistan, he said, remained successful in containing the virus by following a comprehensive strategy of “smart lockdowns”, tests, tracing and quarantine.

“Our efforts in finding a balance between lives and livelihoods was helpful in mitigating the impact of the pandemic,” he added.

Qureshi mentioned the provision of state support to the vulnerable segments through the Prime Minister’s $8 billion relief package, constituting a one-million volunteer youth Task Force and re-employment of people through the ambitious 10 Billion Tree Tsunami projects.

He said although Pakistan had controlled the pandemic within its boundaries, still the government believed that a regional approach was needed to stop the spread of COVID-19, and save lives and livelihoods of the people of South Asia.

He recalled Pakistan’s hosting of the SAARC Health Ministers’ Video Conference on April 23 to develop a regional response to fight the pandemic, besides providing an opportunity for all member states to learn from each other’s successes and experiences.

He also mentioned Prime Minister Imran Khan’s appeal for a ‘Global Initiative for Debt Relief’, which, he said, gave a fiscal space to the developing countries in dealing with the challenge.

Similarly, he said, to strengthen the resilience of the country’s healthcare system, Pakistan Preparedness and Response Plan (PPRP) worth $ 595 million was launched.

He said Pakistan remained supportive of upgrading the status of active Observer countries to Dialogue Partners to ensure their contribution for development of the region, especially in context of post-pandemic economic recovery.

Qureshi said the SAARC region being a huge consumer market offered immense opportunities for regional trade in goods, services and investment, besides its biggest market of human resource and abundant natural resources.

The foreign minister stressed peaceful resolution of outstanding disputes as a prerequisite for achieving development, economic growth, poverty alleviation and social uplift of the masses.

He strongly emphasized the importance of faithfully following the UN Charter and implementing the UN Security Council resolutions.

“We must strongly condemn and oppose any unilateral and illegal measures to change the status of disputed territories in violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” he added.

Such unilateral measures, he said, run counter to the shared objective of creating a regional environment of amity and cooperation, and thus must be opposed resolutely.

He said the SAARC bodies were established to promote regional cooperation among member states and warned that any attempt to de-recognize those, would be prejudicial to its objectives.

In spirit of regionalism and as per Pakistan’s commitment to the SAARC platform , he reiterated Pakistan’s willingness for hosting the 19th SAARC Summit at Islamabad at the earliest.

“We hope that the artificial obstacles created in its way would be removed and SAARC would be enabled to function as an effective instrument of regional cooperation,” he said.

The foreign minister appreciated Chairperson of the SAARC Council of Ministers Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, the Foreign Minister of Nepal for hosting the Informal session and also SAARC Secretary General Esala Weerakoon for his contribution for the forum.