Recently, the Prime Minister suggested that neighboring countries should consider creating a special visa scheme for doctors and nurses, so that they could travel quickly within the region during health emergencies, at the request of the receiving country.

  • This suggestion was made during a workshop on ‘Covid19 Management: Experience, Good Practices and Way Forward’ hosted by India with nine neighboring nations, including Pakistan.
  • The eight members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and Mauritius and Seychelles participated in the workshop.
  • SAARC comprises the following member states: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Boosting Cooperation in South Asia

Boosting Cooperation in South Asia: Key Points

  • Measures Proposed by India in the Workshop:
    • Creating a special visa scheme for doctors and nurses.
    • The civil aviation ministries should coordinate a regional air ambulance agreement for medical contingencies.
    • Creating a regional platform for collating, compiling, and studying data about the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines among populations.
    • A regional network for promoting technology-assisted epidemiology for preventing future pandemics.
    • Sharing of successful public health policies and schemes.
      • From India, Ayushman Bharat and Jan Arogya schemes may be useful case-studies for the region.
  • Other Highlights:
    • Barring Pakistan, which hasn’t requested vaccines from India, the other participating countries thanked India for supplies of vaccines, medicines, and equipment amid the pandemic.
    • South Asia was among the first regions to come together in recognizing the threat (Covid-19) and committing to fight it together.
      • The countries in the region created a Covid-19 emergency response fund and shared resources, equipment, and knowledge.
    • The region shares many common challenges – climate change, natural disasters, poverty, illiteracy, and social and gender imbalances, and also shares the power of centuries-old cultural and people-to-people linkages.
  • Significance:
    • The participation of all the SAARC members including Pakistan has opened an opportunity to resolve the issues among its members and restart the regional development cooperation initiatives such as the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).
  • SAARC Issues:
    • Lack of Unanimity:
      • Consensus building continues to be a challenge on major decisions. For e.g. During the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in 2014, the signing of the SAARC motor vehicle agreement (MVA) had to be stalled as Pakistan declined to it.
    • Tussle Between Countries:
      • Most of the smaller states and external players believe that the India-Pakistan conflict has undermined SAARC.
      • Pakistan’s use of terror as an instrument of foreign policy has made normal business impossible. Therefore, India pulled out of the summit that was to be held in Pakistan in 2016 in the aftermath of the Uri terror attack.
      • The dispute between Pakistan and Afghanistan over the Durand Line is also a reason for tussle within SAARC.
    • Domination by India:
      • India’s economic position vis-a-vis other SAARC countries has often been the subject of criticism that India acts as a big brother rather than a strategic partner.
    • Marginalization by Other Organisations:
      • SAARC has become almost marginal to the regions’ collective consciousness and other organizations such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) came into the forefront.

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