NEW YORK, Sept 26: Nepal is set to convene a SAARC ministerial meeting in New York on Thursday. The meeting is widely expected to pave the way for an icebreaker dialogue between India and Pakistan, whose relations are in the lowest ebb in the aftermath of recent border skirmishes and Indian clampdown on Kashmir.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali said that Nepal is going to convene the meeting on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in its capacity as the chair of the regional body.
Due to the strained relations between India and Pakistan, the SAARC summit has not been held for the last four years since Nepal hosted 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in November, 2014. Although Nepal was supposed to hand over the chair to Pakistan in the 19th SAARC Summit, which was scheduled for 2016 in Islamabad, the summit was canceled amid escalating tensions between India and Pakistan.
Nepal has planned to urge both India and Pakistan for revitalization of the regional organization for multilateral cooperation, said Gyawali.
“Nepal has been convening the informal [ministerial] meeting of SAARC every year on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly,” said Gyawali. “I cannot claim that the meeting would be able to take any decisions about the next SAARC summit but it will definitely be helpful in minimizing differences between the member states and enhancing regional cooperation.”
Foreign ministers from India, Pakistan and other SAARC member states have confirmed their participation in the meeting, according to Lok Chhetri, spokesperson at the Nepal’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. Last year, the then Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had arrived for the SAARC ministerial meeting, made her address and left early.
Nepali officials have said participation of foreign ministers from both India and Pakistan to discuss SAARC is a positive gesture.
“Regional and multilateral cooperation is very important for us and it is part of our foreign policy as well. We will leave no stone unturned to revitalize SAARC,” said Foreign Minister Gyawali.
India has repeatedly snubbed the invitation of Pakistan to attend the SAARC Summit, saying that no dialogue can take place between India and Pakistan until Islamabad demonstrates ‘visible action toward curbing terrorist activities emanating from its soil’.
The last SAARC Summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad in 2016 was cancelled after India expressed its inability to attend it following the terror attack at an army camp in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir. Back then, India had said that under the “prevailing circumstances”, it would not be able to attend the summit. A total of 19 Indian soldiers were killed in the attack. After India, other member states including Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Afghanistan also chose not to participate in the Islamabad summit.