Home/ Politics / Policy/  Saarc summit: India stresses on need for connectivity, cooperation

Kathmandu: India on Tuesday stressed the need for connectivity and regional cooperation among South Asian countries on a day when three regional agreements on road and rail connectivity and an energy grid seemed to elude the consensus necessary for them to be carried through at the Saarc summit this week.

The agreements were discussed at a meeting of foreign ministers of Saarc member-nations in Kathmandu.

In a statement prior to his departure for Kathmandu from New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said close relations with neighbours was a priority for his government.

“The 18th SAARC Summit will focus on the theme of ‘Deeper Regional Integration for Peace and Prosperity’. India has always emphasized the importance of greater regional integration at all levels for the socio-economic development of the South Asian region," Modi said.

“We have undertaken several initiatives in this regard on bilateral, sub-regional and regional basis, and will continue to do more. We hope that the Summit will lead to concrete outcomes, particularly in regard to various initiatives on enhancing connectivity that have been under discussion for a long time," Modi said.

In her comments at the meeting of Saarc foreign ministers in Kathmandu on Tuesday, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj made a strong pitch for connectivity and commerce that she said would help lift millions of people in the region out of poverty.

“Our maritime and waterways, land and air connectivity is still tenuous and under-developed. We must focus on building infrastructure which transcends our boundaries.

Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and the EU (European Union) have developed seamless connectivity and reaped enormous benefits. These benefits could accrue to our peoples as well, if we look beyond our national frontiers," said Swaraj.

Increasing trade and economic activity would help accelerate the regional economic growth, Swaraj said, pointing out that the South Asian Free Trade Area pact had given some momentum to regional commerce. “But it still remains far below potential. India has already taken several measures to boost intra-regional trade, including providing duty-free access to goods from Saarc’s least developed countries," she said.

Developing production chains, removing bottlenecks to logistics, improving the infrastructure for movement of goods, investments, capital flows and services across the region would help boost regional commerce, she said. “The integration of economic activity can help us in reaping the economies of scale for both trade within the region and the region’s trade with the outer world," she said.

But the South Asian officials seemed to be having a tough time getting a consensus on a motor vehicle agreement, a regional railway and an energy grid connecting Saarc countries. “A majority of the countries seem in favour, but Pakistan doesn’t seem to be coming on board. They have cited the lack of domestic approvals for the pacts to go through," said a South Asian diplomat familiar with the discussions on Tuesday.

“There is still no conclusive decision on that...despite several countries wanting it," said Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson for India’s external affairs ministry. Without naming the country, Akbaruddin said one country that had objected had done so because it was “still completing its internal processes". According to South Asian diplomats who did not want to be named, it was Pakistan which had failed to give the failed to go ahead for the pacts.

Another South Asian diplomat said the pacts could still go through with the political intervention of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who arrived in Kathmandu on Tuesday.

On the view expressed by some countries that obervers at Saarc like China should be given an expanded role, Akbaruddin said India was of the opinion that Saarc should first resolve its own problems and issues.

Meanwhile, Sharif on Tuesday said Pakistan is ready to hold talks with India but New Delhi will have to take the first step, Geo News reported.

The spokesperson for India’s foreign ministry, Akbaruddin, ruled out a Modi-Sharif meeting on Wednesday. When asked if there could be a meeting at the SAARC retreat for leaders he said: “One day at a time."

Swaraj, who had a brief chat with her Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz, told reporters to “wait and see" if the meeting takes place over the next two days.

Swaraj termed her interaction with Aziz as a “courtesy" gesture. “My meeting with Aziz was part of common courtesy. It is basic courtesy that when we meet at international conferences, we exchange pleasantries," she said.

In his statement before his departure, Modi merely said he looked forward to “holding bilateral discussions with other South Asian heads of state and government on the margins of the SAARC Summit."

Since the first face-to-face interaction between Modi and Sharif in New Delhi on 26-27 May when the latter had come to attend the prime minister’s swearing-in ceremony, India and Pakistan have put their talks on hold after Pakistan decided to engage Kashmiri separatists ahead of a meeting of their foreign secretaries in Islamabad on 25 August.

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Updated: 26 Nov 2014, 01:02 AM IST
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