Colombo, April 28: The international health emergency created by the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus has spurred international cooperation as well as conflict. But the pious wish that it will give a boost to cooperation rather than to conflict, has not been met.
The mindset of the parties or stakeholders has remained deeply rooted in the conflict-ridden past with the same contentious issues playing in their minds, rather than being fixated on the pressing needs of the present and the anticipated needs of the future.
Indians continue to harbor strong feelings against China on various bilateral issues like the disputed border, imbalance in trade and the lack of cooperation in battling terrorism. The Indian media does not miss a chance to bash China for its alleged failure to warn the world about the novel coronavirus and close its borders in time.
However, the government of India is not a party to the allegation about the coronavirus. Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar even assured China that India does not approve of branding COVID-19 as Chinese or Wuhan virus. India then went to order 15 million pieces of Personal Protective Equipment from China.
The Indian Ambassador to China, Vikram Misri, told The Hindu that there is “considerable space for India and China to cooperate” in dealing with COVID-19, from both the short-term and the long-term perspective.
“The immediate aspect is for us to cooperate in procurement of much needed medical equipment and products in India as our healthcare community on the frontlines of this challenge battles this outbreak. When China was at the height of dealing with this outbreak, we had offered and provided medical assistance,” Misri said.
India has been proactive on the evacuation front at the height of the COVID-19 invasion. It evacuated citizens of different countries along with its own citizens, from Wuhan in China. Those thus evacuated were from Bangladesh, Myanmar, the Maldives, South Africa, and Madagascar. India also quarantined them in India as a precautionary measure before sending them to their respective countries, The Diplomat reported. In April, India sent to Sri Lanka 13 tonnes of life saving medicines and gloves.
India emerged as a major supplier of medicines to different countries. It sent a huge consignment of hydrxychloroquine to the US on a desperate call from President Donald Trump. It sent consignments to Mauritius and the Seychelles as well. New Delhi set aside its deep differences with Malaysia on the issue of the treatment of Indian Muslims and sent anti-malarial drugs to that country, as these could also treat the coronavirus.
Cooperation in SAARC had a promising start when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a SAARC Heads of Government video summit in which he proposed the setting up of a SAARC COVID-19 fund and announced an Indian contribution of US$ 10 million.
But as it has often happened in SAARC, there were signs of hurdles to come. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan did not participate in the video summit, but deputed his Health Advisor instead. Pakistan then urged that the COVID-19 fund should be managed by the SAARC Secretariat and not independently of it fearing that India may get a bigger a role in it. Islamabad also announced its contribution after other member countries had contributed their mite. As to what the SAARC COVID-19 fund will actually do is yet to be seen.
Meanwhile, a Press Trust of India story quoting an Indian army official as saying that the Indian armed forces have put together units to help neighboring countries fight COVID-19, was received with disapproval in the Sri Lankan media as the announcement was seen as an over-reach by a regional power and not as an emergency aid. While Defense Secretary Maj.Gen. Kamal Gunaratne said that Sri Lanka does not need foreign help, the Indian High Commission said that the New Delhi datelined report was baseless.
An Indian news report quoting a regional army commander accusing Pakistan of sending coronavirus positive cases across the border into Kashmir as part of its cross-border terrorist agenda further vitiated India-Pakistan relations.
The Economic Times recently reported that Bangladesh and Nepal have raised with New Delhi the West Bengal government’s decision to halt cross-border trade through its territory on the grounds that movement of trucks might spread Covid-19 infection in the State.
The problem for New Delhi has been compounded by the fact that Bangladesh has continued to provide transit facility for goods to be taken to the northeastern States of Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura. The West Bengal blockade is preventing food items from reaching Bangladesh during the Ramadan month.
However, the West Bengal government sees a contradiction in New Delhi’s stand. “On the one hand, the Central government has charged West Bengal of not doing enough to combat the pandemic but, on the other it wants Bengal to allow the movement of cross-border trucks,” the Economic Times quoted an official as saying.
Nepal and Bhutan’s bilateral trade goes through through Jaigaon (in West Bengal for Bhutan) and Panitanki (in West Bengal, for Nepal).As far as Bangladesh is concerned, the bulk of India’s road-based trade goes through West Bengal. Besides, this is the sowing season for jute in Bangladesh and jute seeds are sourced from West Bengal.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban would like to build ties with all neighboring countries, including India, its spokesperson Mohammad Suhail Shaheen said. “We will never want any foreign organization using Afghan soil to target another country. We will bring a law to stop any such activity,” he added, speaking to analysts during an internet-based seminar organised by Delhi-based think-tank, “Global Counter-Terrorism Council” (GCTC).
The US too wants India’s cooperation for restoring peace in Afghanistan. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad have had phone conversations India’s Foreign Minister Jaishankar.
But India has its reservations about the Taliban as it sees that Islamist-militant organization as a pro-Pakistani outfit. The Hindu quotes Amar Sinha, a member of the Indian National Security Advisory Board and former a Ambassador to Kabul, to say that there is little point in participating in a dialogue process involving the Taliban while it remains dependent on Pakistan for support and safe haven, and while it is still wedded to violence (NIE/DE/SAM)