KATHMANDU, Dec 8: At a time when the process of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is in limbo due to ongoing India-Pakistan tensions, the 34th SAARC Charter Day has been observed by organizing various functions in Kathmandu, New Delhi and Islamabad.
In Kathmandu, the SAARC secretariat hosted a reception at Hotel Annapurna to commemorate the day Thursday evening. The occasion marks the day the regional body came into being after the member states signed a charter in 1985.
Vice President Nanda Bahadur Pun was the chief guest of the event which was attended by eminent personalities from various walks of life including cabinet ministers, government officials, diplomats, politicians, actors and media persons.
Addressing the function, SAARC Secretary General Amjad Hussain B Sial said that the SAARC is essential for the well-being of the people of this region. “The SAARC has contributed to socio-economic development of this region,” he said.
Oli, Modi, Pakistani officials vow for regional cooperation
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior officials of the Pakistani government have expressed commitment to the regional cooperation through the SAARC.
Prime Minister Oli has expressed his firm belief that regional cooperation in South Asia is not a choice, but a necessity.
“I am confident that SAARC, as a common forum of South Asian countries, will continue to enhance understanding among the Member States of consolidate initiatives to address such challenges, thereby paving the way for development and prosperity,” said Oli while extending best wishes and warm greetings to all SAARC member states and the people of South Asia on the occasion of the 34th SAARC Charter Day.
“Nepal, as a founding member and the current chair of SAARC, is firmly committed to the SAARC Charter, its principles and objectives in line with its foreign policy priority,” he reminded.
In his message, Indian Prime Minister Modi said that as a founding member of SAARC, India was committed to strengthening regional cooperation and integration.
"Our initiatives in recent years, such as the launch of South Asia Satellite, extension of India's National Knowledge Network to South Asian countries and ever continued support to the South Asian University and the SAARC Disaster Management Centre (Interim Unit) are geared towards promoting people-to-people contacts and connectivity in the region," Modi said.
Pakistan keen to hold SAARC amid India’s reluctance
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan organized event to mark the day in Islamabad.
In her speech during the SAARC Charter Day ceremony in Islamabad, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua emphasized that only through adhering to the principles of sovereign equality and mutual respect among member states, would “we be able to guide SAARC to our cherished goal of a prosperous and developed South Asian region.”
She also reiterated that Pakistan stood ready to host the 19th SAARC Summit. She said: “This day reminds us to respond positively and effectively to the growing and multifaceted challenges faced by the region.”
She said all the member countries needed to work together with cohesion to transform the lives of their peoples and alleviate poverty from the region. She said this was the commitment expressed repeatedly by the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
The secretary said it was in the same spirit that Pakistan had made preparations to host the 19th SAARC summit in Islamabad. She added: “We look forward to host the summit to take forward the agenda of SAARC.”
SAU observes 34th SAARC Charter Day in Delhi
Likewise, New Delhi-based South Asian University commemorated the 34th SAARC Charter Day on Friday and thanked the partner countries for their contribution to the collaborative effort.
"The university has been continuing its efforts to engage in more international collaborations and also with at least one institution of higher learning in each SAARC country as is evident from the MoUs with 17 universities, institutes till now, including some from beyond the SAARC region," said Kavita Sharma, President , South Asian University.
SAU is an international university established, funded and maintained by the governments of the eight member nations of South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) viz. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
SAARC Summit uncertain
The SAARC Summit, in 2016, was to be held in Pakistan but India boycotted following the Uri attack that killed 19 Indian soldiers in held Kashmir.
The SAARC summit 2016 was finally cancelled as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Maldives followed India’s decision to boycott the summit.
Pakistan is now seeking support from smaller South Asian states to host the regional SAARC Summit in Islamabad this year. Sri Lanka and Nepal have already shown support, according to reports.
Experts hopeful for early convening of SAARC Summit
Experts are of the view that SAARC member states should make concerted efforts to make the SAARC process a success.
“SAARC is the only platform for all eight South Asian countries to sit and discuss their problems and chart out a vision for the future. We have already spent a lot of time, energy and resources to make this regional process a success,” Dr. Nishchalnath Pandey, the director of Kathmandu-based Centre for South Asian Studies (CSAS) told Republica Online.
Pandey, who is also an expert on regional affairs, said that he is optimistic that SAARC leaders will once again see the importance of this common platform and convene a summit.
“This is not the first time that summit has not taken place. As the current Chair of the organization, it is Nepal's responsibility to keep nudging other members,” Pandey said while talking about stalled 19th SAARC summit.
(With inputs from RSS in Kathmandu, Press Trust of India in New Delhi and The Nation in Pakistan).