It takes a colossal tragedy like the 7.9 Richter earthquake in Nepal to get the leaders of India and Pakistan talking. And that’s not something to be cynical about. On the contrary, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s telephone call to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi should be welcomed not just because the Pakistani leader lauded India’s exemplary relief efforts in the Himalayan state, but the conversation underlined the need for regional solidarity in the face of cataclysmic events like the Nepal quake.
Minutes after the phone call, Mr Modi tweeted: “Nawaz Sharif appreciated India’s efforts in the rescue operations in Nepal.”
“PM Nawaz Sharif expressed condolences on the loss of lives in various parts of India due to the Earthquake,” the prime minister shared on the microblogging site.
More important, the conversation underscored the need for buttressing SAARC mechanisms for dealing with disasters of the scale of the Nepal quake which has killed around 5000 people and devastated one of the poorest countries in the region.
Mr Modi conveyed to the Pakistani leader about the need for SAARC nations to “come together & hold annual exercises of rescue teams, doctors etc on how we can minimise damage during natural disasters.” The Indian leader also “suggested to PM Sharif that SAARC nations should conduct regular joint exercises on disaster relief & rescue,” tweeted Vikas Swarup, spokesperson of India’s external affairs ministry.
With Nepal literally picking the pieces after the gigantic quake that has ravaged the country, killed around 5000 people, destroyed its economy and iconic cultural monuments, the need for a coherent regional response to disasters has never been urgent. The conversation between the leaders of India and Pakistan was, therefore, timely and should hopefully be followed up by a cogent regional response.
Minutes after the quake shook Nepal and parts of northern and eastern India on April 25, Mr Modi encapsulated the nation’s anguish by saying Nepal’s pain is India’s pain. By extension, Nepal’s anguish is also the region’s collective trauma. It is in this spirit of deep fraternal empathy the region should come together to help rebuild Nepal, which has the potential to be the richest country in the entire region.
Testing Times for SAARC
The Nepal tragedy is also the testing time for SAARC to shed its unenviable reputation as a talk shop and show some real initiative in healing the wounds of a member country. To begin with, the SAARC Disaster Management Mechanism should be strengthened. Secondly, SAARC Food Bank should be activated to provide immediate succour to thousands of hungry people who could starve to death if they are not fed urgently. It’s time for SAARC to show its relevance in testing times like the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake. Maybe Mr Modi should also talk to all leaders of SAARC countries to forge a regional coalition to rebuild Nepal and stimulate its resurgence out of the mountains of rubble and shattered lives left behind by the deadly seismic assault.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.