Officials hope adrift Saarc will get a new lease of lifeThe Saarc process that hit a snag following the postponement of the 19th summit scheduled for November last year in Islamabad sine die after India expressed its inability to participate could see the revival,
The Saarc process that hit a snag following the postponement of the 19th summit scheduled for November last year in Islamabad sine die after India expressed its inability to participate could see the revival, as eight member states have agreed to sit in a meeting of the Programming Committee in Kathmandu on February 1 and 2.
After India announced on September 27 that it was pulling out of the Islamabad summit “in the wake of the September 18 cross-border terror attack on an Indian Army base in Uri town of Jammu and Kashmir, which New Delhi has blamed on terrorists based in Pakistan, three other member states—Afghanistan, Bhutan and Sri Lanka—followed suit, leaving the fate of the regional bloc hanging in the balance.
Pakistan, the host nation, then announced postponement of the summit, throwing Nepal, which is the current chair of Saarc, into a quandary. Since the postponement of the summit, member states had almost lost their communications and no meetings or engagements were either planned or convened. All eight member states now have now agreed to sit in a meeting of the Programming Committee as proposed by the Saarc Secretariat, Kathmandu. The meeting will take place at the joint secretary/ director general level.
Earlier, the Programming Committee meeting was supposed to take place ahead of the 19th Saarc Summit, but following the postponement of the summit, the meeting had failed to convene.
“The decision to participate in the Programming Committee meeting by our member states is a positive signal at least for Nepal as we are the current chair of the bloc,” said a senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “This could be an opportunity for the Saarc chair to set a positive tone for convening other meetings in future.”
Saarc’s incumbent Secretary General Arjun Bhadur Thapa is also from Nepal. Following the postponement of the 19th Saarc Summit, heaps of criticism were mounted in Nepal, which successfully held the previous summit in Kathmandu in 2014, for failing to channelise formal and informal channels to pursue India and Pakistan to agree on holding the summit.
At a press conference last week, Minister for Foreign Affairs Prakash Sharan Mahat downplayed the criticism that Nepal did nothing in advancing the regional process. “We are in communications with all member states; many of them are suggesting that the tension between India and Pakistan should cool down before Nepal makes a pitch for a meaningful Saarc process,” he said. “As soon as tension between India and Pakistan starts reducing, we as the Saarc chair will start our diplomatic efforts to resume all stalled processes.”
The Saarc Secretariat had proposed the meeting along with the date and agendas whose confirmation from India and Pakistan, the arch rivals, was being awaited till last week.
“We have received confirmation from India and Pakistan of their participation in the Programming Committee meeting. This will set a positive tone for further advancing the regional process at a time when the future of the Saarc is being questioned in the wake of uneasy relations between the two important members of Saarc,” said the official.
According to officials, the upcoming Programming Committee meeting will dwell on budget of the Saarc Secretariat and five regional centres of Saarc among others. Member states are free to take up other agendas as well, besides those which are already set, in the Programming Committee meeting.
The Programming Committee is the lowest level mechanism in Saarc after the Saarc Standing Committee, which is held at the foreign secretary level, and Saarc Council of Ministers held at foreign minister level.