KATHMANDU: In diplomacy, a seemingly impossible situation can change dramatically in a few hours’ time. And so it was with the 18th SAARC summit. The jamboree of the South Asian leaders was dismissed till last night as a no-show till some fresh air and spirited talk among leaders at a resort town outside the mountain city of Kathmandu reversed the gloom and doom narrative, with the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation signing a potentially defining pact on sharing electricity.
As the curtains came down on the two-day SAARC summit November 27, the optics of the summit had changed radically, with the leaders of India and Pakistan warmly shaking hands after the leaders unanimously adopted the Kathmandu Declaration that outlined a reasonably doable agenda for intensifying multifarious intra-regional cooperation across the spectrum.
India, which was looking visibly disappointed at the stalling of the three SAARC pacts on energy, road and rail connectivity by Pakistan, heaved a sigh of relief with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finally going along with other SAARC leaders to give his assent to the pact on creating a regional power grid.
The other two connectivity pacts are also very much alive and look set to acquire a concrete shape with the leaders directing their transport ministers to meet within three months and resolve lingering issues relating to these agreements.
“The leaders directed the relevant SAARC bodies and mechanisms to identify regional and sub-regional projects in the area of power generation, transmission and power trade, including hydropower, natural gas, solar, wind and bio-fuels and implement them with high priority with a view to meeting the increasing demand for power in the region,” said the Kathmandu Declaration. “The leaders welcomed the signing of the SAARC framework agreement for energy cooperation.”
There were some difficulties, but those were overcome in a graduated manner at the retreat, Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesperson of India’s external affairs ministry, told journalists at the end of the 18th summit. “We are happy that it was the PM’s first SAARC summit and it ended in success,” the spokesperson stressed.
In the end, it was the relaxed and informal interaction among leaders at the retreat at Dhulikhel, an idyllic resort town located nearly 30 km away from the capital Kathmandu, that did the trick. The view of the majestic Himalayas may have helped clear the air. In his speech at the plenary of the SAARC summit on November 26, Prime Minister Modi said with a rhetorical flourish that the Himalayas is “asking us to act.” The SAARC still has a long summit to climb to bridge the gap between declarations and action, but hopefully the electricity pact should infuse a new energy into the eight-nation regional grouping that has been excruciatingly slow in backing words with action on the ground.
Summing up the key takeaways from the summit, Syed Akbaruddin underlined that the Kathmandu summit has shown that the SAARC is not about India and Pakistan, but it’s about the whole of South Asia.
Besides connectivity, economic and energy cooperation, the SAARC leaders also decided to intensify counter-terror and security cooperation. “The leaders unequivocally condemned terrorism and violent extremism in all its forms and manifestations and underlined the need for effective cooperation among member states to combat them,” said the Kathmandu Declaration. “They directed respective authorities to ensure full and effective implementation of the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism.”
(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network, www.indiawrites.org, a portal and e-journal focused on international affairs and the India Story. He is in Kathmandu to report and analyse the 18th SAARC summit)
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.