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No meeting between Nawaz Modi

27 November, 2014

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KATHMANDU - No evidence was available if the two major Saarc partners had even exchanged pleasantries when they assembled at the City Hall, the venue of the 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Summit which was under very tight and foolproof security arrangements.

Informed diplomatic circles have indicated that having been disappointed with the outcome of the 18th Summit, the Pakistani prime minister may shorten his stay in Kathmandu and return to Islamabad on Thursday instead of leaving on Friday morning, as per his original plan.

Such was the body language of Nawaz and Modi that generated great disappointment for those who were actively engaged in securing a meeting between them to change the entire environment in the Nepalese capital.

The tension between the two sides was clearly visible in their speeches they delivered at the inaugural session. Nawaz adopted a matter of fact approach and did not touch upon any sensitive issue, laying his focus on objectives of the regional organisation.

On the other hand, his Indian counterpart not only mentioned the issue of Mumbai attacks but also talked of terrorism which was not part of his original speech. This departure from the text of the speech was noticed by all those present in the City Hall and a huge lot of journalists present at the media centre at Hotel Radisson.

Modi speech was influenced with the approach of being a policeman of the region. "We will address your concerns and give you a level playing field in India. But, I encourage you go attract Indian investments to produce for the Indian market and create jobs for your youth," this was the tone and tenure of his address to the gathering where heads of states and governments from seven member countries and representatives of 19 observers states were sitting.

Such was the atmosphere at the City Hall that led to dying down of all hopes and optimism generated during the past two days that Nawaz and Modi interaction would pave the way for the unprecedented success of the Saarc Summit.

No one was actually willing to talk about the prospects of any such eventuality. Well over 170 journalists accompanying Narendra Modi were seen haunting members of Pakistani delegation to secure quotes to use in their reports. They chased Sartaj Aziz to the bilateral meeting venue but he refused to talk to any Indian media person.

However, a new issue has surfaced and that is Beijing seeking full membership of Saarc, presenting the argument that China has common border with five South Asian states. So far, according to insiders at the Summit venue, India is the only country hindering China's entry into the regional organisation. However, China is making well thought-out moves to make its way into Saarc by making massive investment in member states.

The heads of delegations attending the Summit would today (Thursday) proceed to retreat where there is a possibility of closer interaction among them. It would largely depend on Premier Modi to demonstrate such gestures that could lead to some positive development in Indo-Pak bilateral relations.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday calling for a "dispute-free South Asia" urged the regional countries to set aside their mutual conflicts and focus on fighting their common issues of poverty, diseases and illiteracy. Addressing the summit, he stressed that the gap between the promise of Saarc and reality of its accomplishments needs to be bridged.

"My vision for our region is a dispute-free South Asia, where instead of fighting each other, we jointly fight poverty, illiteracy, disease, malnourishment and unemployment," the prime minister told the gathering of the eight-member states that represent 1.5 billion population.
He stressed the need for building on convergences, minimise divergences and augment complementarities for the greater good of the people of this region. "We invest in our youth to unleash their creativity, talent and enterprise. We strengthen our bonds of trust so that we can solve our problems," he said.

PM Nawaz Sharif said the economic development of South Asia was closely linked to the availability of energy at an affordable price. He said with abundant alternate energy resources available region-wide, there was a need to collectively focus on harnessing indigenous energy production potential. "We should also consider arrangements for trans-regional oil and gas pipelines."

The Premier said Pakistan by virtue of its geographic location at the confluence of South Asia, West Asia and Central Asia, was a natural economic corridor for the region. He said promoting regional connectivity was one of the seven pillars in Pakistan's development strategy.

"My government is actively pursuing this initiative which has the potential to integrate South Asia, China and Central Asia, the three engines of growth in Asia. A soft visa regime would greatly facilitate the realisation of these objectives," PM Nawaz Sharif said.

The prime minister said Pakistan attaches high importance to Saarc as the organisation has come to epitomise the hopes and aspirations of the peoples of this region, for peace, progress and prosperity. "If we look at a region which is home to nearly one quarter of humanity on the planet, it is mired in poverty, disease and illiteracy, with lowest human and social indicators."

He said more than one fifth of the population of the region was between 15-24 years of age - the largest number of youth to ever make transition into adulthood. He regretted that the region, however, accounts for only 6 percent of world GDP in purchasing power parity, and only 4 percent share in world trade, while attracting only 3 percent of global FDI.

Mentioning the theme for the 18th Saarc Summit – ‘Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity', he said it was most appropriate and reflected the common desire for promoting mutual understanding and reaching out to each other, to create a win-win scenario. "We are one of the least integrated regions in the world," he noted.

Nawaz Sharif said the cultural affinity among the people of the region was a huge asset and said shared geography and history has culminated in a unique synthesis of cultures and traditions. "We must therefore place our people at the centre of the Saarc processes. Saarc must capture the imagination of our peoples and contribute to creating strong and mutually beneficial bonds," he said.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Saarc can contribute immensely towards building a trust surplus among member states. Interfaith and intercultural harmony must find special emphasis in its programmes. An interactive process in this domain will reveal the beauty and strength of a true South Asian identity, he said.

"We should build on our inherent strengths and effectively address common issues, such as socio-economic disparities, poverty alleviation, women empowerment, health and education." He however pointed that it needed close coordination at national and regional levels.

Prime Minister Sharif noted that South Asia has undergone a democratic transformation and all South Asian states were vibrant democracies. "We earnestly hope that old and new democracies in South Asia will join hands to make our region peaceful and prosperous. We must strengthen regional cooperation through sharing of experiences, best practices and establishing institutional linkages."

The prime minister also recalled the havoc caused by the recent monsoon floods in South Asian countries and said it raised the importance of regional cooperation on cross-border information sharing, and early flood forecasting systems. He said human-induced and natural disasters affect everybody, irrespective of national boundaries and socio-economic status.

He said the government of Pakistan had recently launched Pakistan Vision 2025, which puts people first in its development equation through prioritising human and social capital, promoting sustainable and inclusive growth, and balanced development.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that while pursuing the Saarc socio-economic agenda "we must pay special attention to rural development, expansion of the agricultural resource base, development of action plans to combat communicable diseases, promotion of greater collaboration in the health sector, elimination of illiteracy, scientific and technological capacity-building and development of information and communication technologies."
The prime minister also emphasised the importance of the role of the Saarc observers and said it can benefit from its interaction with them.
During his speech, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointedly referred to deadly attacks in Mumbai exactly six years ago. "In 2008 we felt the endless pain of lost lives. Let us work together to fulfil the pledge we have taken to combat terrorism and transnational crime," he said.

Modi said India would lead a drive to increase regional trade, committing to reduce his country's large trade deficit with other South Asian nations and make it easier for goods to cross its borders. He also pledged to launch a communications satellite dedicated to the Saarc nations by 2016.
Modi told President Ghani that India was committed to strengthening relations with Afghanistan, India's foreign ministry spokesman tweeted after the two leaders held their first face-to-face talks on the summit's sidelines.

Afghanistan's new president told the Indian and Pakistani leaders he would not let his country become the battleground for a proxy war, as the enmity between South Asia's arch-rivals casts a shadow over the regional summit.

"We will not allow our territory to be used against any of our neighbours. But we will not permit anybody to conduct proxy wars on our soil either," he told the leaders including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif.

Ghani said state sponsorship of non-state actors could have "blowback effects", and described the aftermath of a suicide blast at a volleyball game in Afghanistan that killed 57 people on Sunday. "To hold wounded children in one's arms in a hospital, as I was late Sunday evening, is to feel the depth of our fall from our sense of shared humanity and the values of our great religions," he said.

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