The leaders of the SAARC member states have arrived at the Himalayan capital on Tuesday as Kathmandu is all set to host the regional grouping’s “much-hyped” 18th summit amid strict security.
Presidents of Sri Lankan, Afghanistan and Maldives arrived in the morning while Prime Ministers of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Pakistan arrived in the afternoon.
Streets at Kathmandu wore a deserted look with the closing of all educational institutions and restrictions of vehicular movements as the Prime Minister Sushil Koirala himself had inspected all the security drills at key points.
Even journalists, except two from state sponsored media from each country, would not be allowed to enter the main venue Rastriya Sabha Griha (City Hall) during the summit on Wednesday and Thursday, declared public holidays.
Foreign Ministers are meeting on Tuesday to set agendas for their leaders talk. SAARC that unites South Asia, which according to an ADB study “least integrated” region in the world, has been criticised for not having any collective gains to show since it began functioning in 1985.
But this summit will be watched closely as the influential India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a strong message of working together with the SAARC counties by inviting all heads of states in his swearing-in ceremony.
This is his first summit and before leaving Delhi he in a statement said “development of close relations with our neighbours is a key priority for my Government”.
Nine observers including the US, China, and Japan would also send their representatives to monitor the summit that also gives an opportunity to the new republic Nepal to showcase it to the neighbours.
Rich in its culture and Himalayas and sandwiched between two powers India and China , the landlocked Nepal is, however, one of the poorest countries of the world.
It is still struggling to overcome the legacy of a decade-old Maoist insurrection, leaving more than 12,000 people dead and 100,000 people displaced according to UN figures. It became a republic only in May 2008.
Strategically located Nepal, between India and China, is going to host the summit for the third time after 1987 and 2002.
Media, particularly in Bangladesh, have been focusing on the possible signing of the three deals related to railway, road and energy connectivity as the country was prepared for that.
But the foreign secretary-level meeting ended on Monday could not agree on those as some countries were not prepared.
Though the signing does not mean that member states would implement those as it could not live up to their earlier promises that include implementing South Asian free trade regime and South Asian economic union.
But the signing would send a strong message across that the leaders could agree on a common goal of connectivity in the summit themed on ‘Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity’.
Modi’s invitation to SAARC leaders at his inauguration and subsequent speeches at different level ushered a new hope for this region, home to almost a quarter of world’s population but nearly 40 percent of them are poor.
Analysts believe it is India who can make difference in this region’s collective gains.
“But the challenges are will he be able to execute those things, will he be able to convince the neighbours?” said Radheshyam Malla, who coordinates dialogue on international affairs for a Nepal-based think-tank Asian Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs (AIDIA).
He told bdnews24.com that the relations between India and Pakistan would determine whether SAARC can work smoothly.
“Modi has challenges and once he can settle the issue, there could be lot of prospects”.
“We need to be quite hopeful. There is no alternative to being hopeful and people should also work for that to give pressure (to leaders)”.
Since security is a big challenge, he said leaders need to commit that “security threats cannot be pervasive enough in terms of creating chaotic environment”.
He said the primary objective should be “to get integrated and to start working for the sake of regional development, which is a must”.
“…rather than going back and having kind of criticism regarding whether SAARC did great or not, its time leaders of the all countries get united, have common agenda and then start work on it for the sake of the people, country’s development and overall development of the region”.
“It is right time they started work on it,” he said. AGENCIES