SAARC leaders to push for connectivity accords at retreat as Pakistan plays spoilsport

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the inaugural session of the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu

Kathmandu, Nov 27: Even as Pakistan plays spoilsport by blocking three major SAARC connectivity agreements initiated by India, SAARC leaders are expected to make a last ditch effort to push Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif to ink the regional connectivity accords.

According to reports, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other SAARC leaders are headed for Dhulikhel in Kavre district, 20 km east from here, for a retreat on Thursday.

The retreat is a tradition of SAARC Summit where leaders hold private, unofficial bilateral and multilateral talks in a relaxed and more informal atmosphere.

Pakistan has stalled the connectivity agreements on the pretext that they have not completed their “internal processes”.

The 18th SAARC summit, which appeared to have become a non-starter with agreement on the three projects – an electricity grid and trade in electricity, and road and rail connectivity, the Heads of SAARC nations are expected to take up the matter with the Pakistan Premier at a retreat near.

The leaders will reportedly be going to Dwarika’s Resort at Dhulikhel for a Retreat Session, followed by a lunch hosted by Prime Minister Sushil Koirala.

Nepal has officially said it was working to remove “roadblocks” in signing of the SAARC agreements.

Nepal Foreign Minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey told a news agency: “There are some roadblocks and we are working to clear them.”

While India has expressed its disappointed over the pacts not being signed, PM Modi in his address at SAARC summit has already outlined that “we will move to enhance our bonds with South Asia together if we can, if not with those who are ready for it”.

“There is a new awakening in South Asia; a new recognition of inter-linked destinies; and, a new belief in shared opportunities. The bonds will grow. Through SAARC or outside it. Among us all or some of us,” said Modi in his address.

There has been however no official confirmation whether PM Modi would meet his Pakistani counterpart.

Modi, who gave a forceful maiden speech at the summit on the need for seamless connectivity, met his Bangladeshi and Bhutanese counterparts Sheikh Hasina and Tshering Tobgay, and later the presidents of Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Maldives – Ashraf Ghani, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Abdulla Yameen.

Modi on Wednesday also announced longer business visas for citizens of the SAARC member nations and added that a special funding vehicle will be created to finance infrastructure projects in the South Asia region.

The Prime Minister pointed out that though trade between member nations has increased, it still only accounts for very little of the total trade of the South Asia region.

Keeping that in mind, he announced the launch of business visas of three to five years for SAARC nations.

(With Agency Inputs)

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