Sarwar to be new Saarc secretary generalWith his nomination, the stalled Saarc process is expected to gain some momentum.
Ending months-long speculation and confusion, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) is all set to appoint Golam Sarwar, a Bangladeshi career diplomat, as its new secretary general. Sarwar has earlier served at the Bangladeshi embassy in Kathmandu. He is replacing Esala Ruwan Weerakoon of Sri Lanka.
As the incumbent secretary general Weerakoon had already completed his term in February-end, there was confusion over his replacement. As per the alphabetical order, it was Afghanistan’s turn to nominate a new secretary general. But as the seven Saarc member states are yet to recognise the new Taliban-led regime in Kabul that came to power in 2021, the issue of appointing a new secretary general had got complicated. Nepal has been chairing the regional bloc since 2014 as there has since been no Saarc summit owing to India-Pakistan disputes.
With the recommendation of Sarwar as the new Saarc secretary general, officials hoped the stalled Saarc process would finally get some momentum.
The government of Bangladesh has forwarded Sarwar’s name for appointment as secretary general of the regional bloc. Some member states, including Nepal, have already agreed to the nomination, two senior officials at Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Post.
“As there was confusion over the appointment of a new Saarc secretary general, our foreign secretary Bharat Raj Poudel personally spoke to his counterparts in Saarc member states except Afghanistan,” said a joint secretary at the foreign ministry. “He was able to get their approval on the nomination of the new secretary general.”
As the longest-serving chair of Saarc, it was incumbent upon Nepal to take the initiative to keep the Saarc process alive.
“Foreign secretary Paudyal and his team at the foreign ministry mulled several proposals and circulated them among Saarc member states. Member states finally concluded that the next in line in the alphabetical order, Bangladesh, should nominate a new secretary general,” the joint secretary said.
The official informed that at first, the agreement is that the new secretary general will serve until the new regime in Kabul is recognised by Saarc. “Member states also agreed that until the new Saarc secretary general takes over, the term of the incumbent, Weerakoon, will be extended. But the foreign ministers of the Saarc states are already in the process of endorsing the Bangladeshi nominee. We expect the new secretary general to take office in Kathmandu in a few weeks’ time,” he added.
A new Saarc secretary general is chosen by an in-person meeting of the Saarc council of ministers, which was not possible this time. This is why the Nepali side proposed an endorsement via a circular.
“Paudyal and his team worked for at least five months to conclude this process and this suggests the Saarc process is still alive. In spite of differences at the political level, even an initiative at the bureaucratic level has delivered results,” another Nepali diplomat serving at a South Asian nation told the Post. “Our next focus should be handing over the long-standing chairmanship to another Saarc member state.”
Sarwar is now serving as the high commissioner of Bangladesh to Malaysia. Before him, two other Bangladeshi diplomats, Abul Ahsan and Qama Rahim, have already served as Saarc secretary general.
Career diplomat Sarwar joined foreign ministry in 1990 as cadre officer of 10th Bangladesh Civil Service, according to Prothom Alo, a Dhaka-based English language newspaper. He served at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangladesh in various capacities and had stints in Yangon, Kathmandu, Washington DC, and Jeddah. He was also the director general of the ministry’s South-East Asia wing.