Revitalising SAARC

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaquan Abbasi has become the first counterpart guest of Premier KP Sharma Oli after his election to the highest executive post of federal Nepal. Visibly, PM Abbasi landed here to congratulate Oli on his election to the post of prime minister. Nonetheless, his trip also carries diplomatic significance in addition to boosting the bilateral relations between the two countries in the wake of the changing geopolitical scenario in the region. As this daily reported, Pakistan has sought Nepal’s active and creative role in reviving the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) that has been struck down owing to the tension between Pakistan and India. It is natural for Pakistan to expect cooperation from its trustworthy and close friend Nepal to energise the SAARC process. Currently, Nepal is the chair of SAARC, and it wanted to pass the baton to Pakistan at the 19th SAARC Summit scheduled to be held in Pakistan in 2016. Unfortunately, it was postponed after India unilaterally decided to stay out of the Summit, citing an attack at its army base in Uri of Jammu and Kashmir. It is bad that the regional forum of eight nations has not been effective owing to the hostility between the two nuclear powers. SAARC holds immense potential to end poverty, underdevelopment and infrastructural deficit in the region. The premiers of the two nations exchanged similar views on revitalising the regional body in the spirit of the Charter.

On his part, PM Oli expressed his commitment to strive to overcome the misunderstanding among the SAARC members through mutual consultations with them. With Nepal getting a stable government after decades of transition, it has gained traction in terms of regional geopolitics. Now Oli has the onus to breathe life into the moribund SAARC. Pakistani PM also extended invitation to Oli to visit Pakistan. Oli responded that he would visit Pakistan at a suitable time. It has been long since the two nations have not witnessed an exchange of visits at the highest level. And Abbasi’s visit has added momentum to Nepal-Pakistan ties marked by mutual understanding, respect, cooperation, cordiality and commonality of interest. The visit offered an opportunity to further expand and strengthen bilateral relations across all areas of mutual interest, including trade, education, tourism agriculture, defence and human resources. The two sides also agreed to conduct the meetings of the bilateral mechanisms regularly.

Nepal and Pakistan are not connected via land, but they are linked through the heart and common feelings. The bilateral relations between Nepal and Pakistan at the government and people to people level are going from strength to strength. Pakistan has been providing scholarships to Nepali students in technical and medical education. Hundreds of Nepali doctors who have graduated from Pakistan are serving Nepali people. Pakistan was one of the first nations to send its rescue and medical teams to Nepal when it was rattled by the Gorkha Earthquake in 2015. This humanitarian support at the time of utter crisis was highly appreciated. Now it is time to broaden the areas of mutual cooperation between the two nations. Both are set to get connected by railway network with the completion of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a mega project under the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China. As Nepal is also a signatory to the BRI, the CPEC may open new avenues of cooperation, connectivity, trade and investment between Nepal and Pakistan.

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