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  • Saarc Summit has already been fruitful for Nepal in terms of bilateralism with India
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Nov 26, 2014-

The Saarc Summit is now in full swing. In their speeches at the Summit yesterday, the heads of government pointed out that South Asia is among the least integrated regions in the world. They also insisted that the region has vast potential, not least in energy and human resources. A wide range of bilateral meetings have been held on the sidelines, many no doubt with significant implications.

So far the Summit has proceeded smoothly, except for minor glitches. The months of preparations by the Nepal government have paid off. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala has handled his duties hosting the Saarc Summit and as new chairman very well. Congratulations to him and his government.  

On the more substantial multilateral issues, there was a strong hope that the Saarc countries would be able to reach consensus on three important agreements dealing with rail links, easier access for motor vehicles, and cooperation on energy. In the run-up to the Summit, it had seemed that these agreements would be signed. But new complications have arisen, with some countries unwilling to sign these agreements. This is unfortunate. We hope that all countries are able to manage their internal processes, are able to explain to their domestic constituencies the huge opportunity cost, and deepen integration and connectivity across South Asia.

There are also some disputes over the role to be given to observers. Smaller member-states are especially keen to give China a greater role in the Saarc process. Some others, however, are less willing. According to one view at the Summit, the Saarc countries should focus more on deepening integration among member-states, for now. Only when that has been achieved, should they consider granting observers a greater role. There is no doubt that greater regional integration and connectivity are of the utmost importance. However, in the interim, this does not need to occur at the expense of pursuing other goals, such as involving observer nations more deeply in the Saarc process.

Even if the Summit fails to move ahead on substantive issues, the Kathmandu Summit has already been fruitful for Nepal in terms of bilateralism with India. Both sides have demonstrated a desire to advance the relationship further. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made some concrete gestures of support for Nepal, such as signing an agreement to operationalise the $1 billion worth of credit that India promised to extend to Nepal. In an indication that both countries are willing to leave behind old suspicions on hydropower cooperation, a new Project Development Agreement (PDA), on Arun III, was signed yesterday. Modi also urged Nepali leaders to draft a constitution within the deadline of January 22 and emphasised that this should be done through consensus. It was well-intended advice. While big international investors have been looking at Nepal with new interest since the November elections last year, the country is still seen by the outside world as one with a polarised polity, where a new constitution can bring national reconciliation and cohesion.

Published: 27-11-2014 09:28

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