By PTI

NEW DELHI: Esala Ruwan Weerakoon, the Secretary-General of the SAARC is undertaking a week-long visit to India from Sunday to explore ways to deepen regional cooperation including in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Weerakoon will hold talks with Minister of State for External Affairs Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Riva Ganguly Das, according to an official schedule.

The schedule put out by the MEA said Weerakoon is visiting India from August 8-14.

People familiar with the agenda of Weerakoon’s visit said boosting regional cooperation under the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), including in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, will figure in his talks with Indian officials.

The SAARC is a regional grouping comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The SAARC leaders, under India’s initiative, held a virtual meeting in March last year to work on a common strategy to effectively deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

The SAARC has not been very effective since 2016 as its biennial summits have not taken place since the last one in Kathmandu in 2014.

The 2016 SAARC Summit was to be held in Islamabad.

But after the terrorist attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir on September 18 that year, India expressed its inability to participate in the summit due to “prevailing circumstances”.

The summit was called off after Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan also declined to participate in the Islamabad meet.

Weerakoon, a Sri Lankan diplomat, assumed charge as the Secretary-General of the SAARC in March last year.

He is the 14th Secretary-General of the SAARC.