KATHMANDU, Sept 25: Nepal, the present chair of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), has urged all SAARC member states to explore all viable options to hold the 19th SAARC Summit at an early date so as to generate a new momentum and dynamism in the regional body.
During an informal meeting of SAARC Council of Ministers held on Thursday virtually, Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Kumar Gyawali stressed the need for making SAARC an effective and result-oriented regional organization capable of bringing visible changes to the lives of the peoples of South Asia, according to a press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The meeting of SAARC Council of Ministers is an annual affair and usually takes place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. However, this year the meeting took place virtually owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
SAARC, which was established in 1985, has made little progress largely due to the rivalry between two arch rivals Indian and Pakistan.
The virtual meeting, however, will not have much of its impact when it comes to reviving the stalled SAARC process and holding the SAARC summit anytime soon, according to people familiar with the development.
SAARC summits have not been held since 2016 after India, one of the key actors in SAARC, has been distancing itself from the organization, accusing Pakistan of harboring cross-border terrorism. But Pakistan has been consistently denying the accusations and blaming India for holding the SAARC process hostage.
As the current chair of SAARC, Nepal has been consistently asking India, Pakistan and other member states to revitalize the SAARC process on several occasions. However, the SAARC process has remained stalled as India has been taking a much harder approach toward it.
Amid India-Pakistan rivalry over a host of issues, New Delhi has shifted its focus from SAARC to another regional organization - the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).
During his address on Thursday, Foreign Minister Gyawali highlighted the need for deeper engagement of the member states to collectively fight COVID-19 and develop regional resilience to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.
On the occasion, Foreign Secretary of Nepal, Shanker Das Bairagi delivered Nepal’s national statement. The Nepali delegation led by the foreign minister consisted of Foreign Secretary Bairagi and senior officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Foreign ministers of the SAARC member states expressed their commitment to make SAARC dynamic.
Addressing the meeting, Indian Foreign Minister Dr S Jaishankar reiterated India’s steadfast commitment to SAARC in building a connected, integrated, secure and prosperous South Asia.
He reiterated India’s continued commitment to assisting countries in the SAARC region in combating COVID-19 pandemic.
“Dr Jaishankar called upon SAARC member states to collectively resolve to defeat the scourge of terrorism, including the forces that nurture, support and encourage an environment of terror and conflict, which impede the objective of SAARC to realize its full potential for collective collaboration and prosperity across South Asia,” reads the press release issued by India’s External Affairs Ministry.
During the meeting, Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to the SAARC process and highlighted its importance in the context of regional economic and development challenges, according to a press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan. He also highlighted the changing nature of challenges being faced by the region such as the pandemic, climate change and food insecurity and said that SAARC had to prepare itself to deal effectively with these challenges.
He condemned and opposed any unilateral and illegal measures to change the status of disputed territories in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions. “Such unilateral measures run counter to the shared objective of creating a regional environment of amity and cooperation and these must be opposed resolutely,” Foreign Minister Qureshi was quoted by the ministry as saying.
In the spirit of regionalism and as per Pakistan’s commitment to the SAARC platform the Foreign Minister reiterated Pakistan’s willingness for hosting the 19th SAARC Summit at Islamabad. “He expressed hope that the artificial obstacles created in its way would be removed and SAARC would be enabled to function as an effective instrument of regional cooperation,” the ministry said.