Nepal PM urges integration at South Asia leaders summit

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala opens summit of South Asia leaders with call for regional cooperation as the summit was undermined by traditional bickering between rivals Pakistan and India.

Nepal PM urges integration at South Asia leaders summit

World Bulletin/News Desk

Nepal's prime minister on Wednesday urged regional cooperation on tackling poverty, terrorism, climate change and human trafficking.

“It is high time we work honestly to confront these challenges," said Prime Minister Sushil Koirala at the opening of the 18th summit of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation. "Lack of connectivity has kept us far apart."

Koirala emphasized the need for better sharing of information between South Asian nations for counter-terrorism efforts. "South Asia has been the worst victim of terrorism and transnational crimes of all kinds," he said.

He also highlighted the need for the association to pay greater attention to environmental policies.  

"No one has the privilege to pollute the planet without the accountability," said Koriala. "Our people continue to suffer from compounding threats posed by climate change and environmental degradation."

Tensions

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi was due to hold two-way talks with every country in the volatile region except Pakistan, as neither neighbour is ready to seek talks to reduce tension between the nuclear-armed states.

Divided when they won freedom from British colonial rule in 1947, the two countries have barely agreed on anything since, a predicament that has left the three-decade-old South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) dysfunctional.

"More often than not, India-Pakistan disputes have overshadowed the organization," Nepal's former prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai, wrote in the Republica newspaper. "It is now time for India to take the lead."

Despite a free trade pact since 2006, South Asian nations conduct only 5 percent of their total trade with each other, and there are few transport and power links among them.

"My vision for our region is a dispute-free South Asia, where, instead of fighting each other, we jointly fight poverty," Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a speech that acknowledged the grouping's sparse achievements.

But hopes for a meeting between Modi and Sharif to restart the peace process faded after Sharif told reporters on his plane that "the ball is now in India's court".

India would like to make SAARC a viable economic counterweight to China. Modi hoped to build on goodwill he earned by inviting SAARC leaders, including Sharif, to his inauguration six months ago.

But his ambition looked unlikely to gain traction in Kathmandu, with Indian officials on Tuesday saying Pakistan was blocking proposals to integrate energy grids and free up road and rail movement.

After the May overtures to Sharif, ties between India and Pakistan have again been frayed by exchanges of fire on the border in disputed Kashmir, which killed 20 people last month.

Such divisions and mistrust have helped China establish a strong foothold, building roads and ports in the region. The summit was held in a hall China built for Nepal.

Modi has not welcomed Beijing's renewed suggestion, backed by Pakistan, for its status to be raised from "observer" in the grouping, where India is currently the major power.

The leaders of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are attending the two-day summit. 

The regional grouping held its first meeting in Bangladesh in 1985 with the intention of fostering better economic and political parternerships. 

In 1995, the association committed to the formation of a free trade area, though it has not yet been effectively established.

 

Last Mod: 26 Kasım 2014, 12:48
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