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Thursday, February 20, 2020

South Asian leaders may think again about reactivating the SAARC

THE Himalayan landlocked nation Nepal has laid emphasis on holding a dialogue among the heads of the governments of South Asian countries to reactivate South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). "We hope the political leaders of South Asia will review their position on SAARC and explore new ways to engage to enhance cooperation," Nepal foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawal said in Dhaka on Monday.  Mr Gyawal arraived here on a three-day bilateral visit starting from Sunday and attended a talk on Bangladesh-Nepal relations and prospects of sub-regional cooperation organised by Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies. He said activating SAARC is the only alternative to address the problems of 1.8 billion people in the region. It is to be noted that Bangladesh has agreed to the Nepalese proposal to use Saidpur Airport as part of strengthening connectivity between the two countries.
The SAARC, once a most popular concept, is now apparently an inactive platform for the last several years due to mainly a loss of  interest by India. Its last summit was held in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu in November 2014 where prime ministers of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan, and the presidents of the Afghanistan, Maldives and Sri Lanka took part. The next summit was scheduled to hold in October 2016 in Pakistan's capital Islamabad. But it was called off at the eleventh hour as most members, including India and Bangladesh, decided not to join the event when India geared up diplomatic moves to isolate Pakistan on allegations of attack on one of its military bases in Kashmir that killed 18 soldiers. Though SAARC had huge potential and could be a powerful platform for the people of this region, it faced tremendous obstacles from the very beginning due to power politics, particularly between Indian and Pakistan. Despite showing huge interest, China also couldn't be a member of this platform due to Indian's protest.
Whatever the past may be, we think South Asian leaders must sit together to find a way if possible to reactive the SAARC for the greater interest of this region.