Saarc to embrace Observers more openly

- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu
Saarc to embrace Observers more openly

Nov 18, 2014-

The 18th Saarc Summit will for the first time seek notable engagement from its nine Observers to assist the regional block in seven priority areas.

The regional grouping has yet to prepare a rule of engagement with the Observers and key global donors such as the United States, Japan, China, the European Union and Australia. In the lack of their defined role, they have only been showing up at a summit’s inaugural and closing ceremonies.

A recent meeting of the Saarc Programming Committee outlined the role of Observers, and how they can engage in the region and assist the Saarc process. China, Australia, the US, Japan, Myanmar, South Korea, Iran, Mauritius and the EU are the Saarc observers.

According to the Saarc Secretariat, if the Kathmandu Summit approves the role of Observers as prepared by the secretariat, Observers can put money or be directly involved in seven priority areas covering at least three countries. The Observers can fund and execute regional projects related to agriculture, communication, energy, connectivity (road, rail, waterway, and airway), environment, public health and economic cooperation.

But Observers are still barred from cooperating or seeking dialogue in areas of security, terrorism and politics. There are calls from experts and even Observers to open up more horizon and avenues for the region. “The Saarc member states agreed that they need vigorous engagement within themselves first to make the bloc vibrant. Then Observers could be given some opportunities to act,” said officials privy to various Saarc-related meetings.

Before investing in priority projects, the Observers should apply at the secretariat for approval from the member states. “The Observer should provide project details. After the secretariat and the Observer agree on the proposal, it is sent to member states for consent,” said an official.

This comes as a huge opportunity for the Observers, said another official at the secretariat. Many Observers have been complaining about their limited role in the regional body. All the nine Observers have confirmed their participation in the summit. From Australia, a parliamentary secretary is attending the summit while the deputy foreign minister is representing China. Assistant ministers are representing Japan and South Korea and Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal is coming from the US. Iran will send a Cabinet minister. Respective ambassadors of the EU and Mauritius based in Kathmandu and New Delhi will be attending the summit. Myanmar is yet to inform about its participant.

The 14th summit held in New Delhi welcomed Observers to the opening and closing sessions. Saarc has put a moratorium on the number of observer states.

Published: 19-11-2014 09:04

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