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Friday, March 13, 2015, Falgun 29, 1421 BS, Jamadi ul Awwal 21, 1436 Hijr

SAARC Rail, Road Connectivity
No progress yet as Pakistan remains intransigent
Saleem Samad
Published : Friday, 13 March, 2015,  Time : 12:00 AM,  View Count : 353

Intransigent attitude of Pakistan is alleged to have blocked a move to establish regional rail and road connectivity between Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
At the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit held in the third week of last November, Pakistan stalled the inking of SAARC connectivity agreements, including motor vehicle pact, saying it was yet to complete its "internal process".
After the signing ceremony at Nepalese capital Kathmandu of energy cooperation deal by the Foreign Ministers of the SAARC countries, Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala addressed the concluding session. He said that the Transport Ministers of the member countries would sit within three months to finalise the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement for the Regulation of Passenger and Cargo Vehicular Traffic  and SAARC Agreement on Railway Service.
The deadline announced by Koirala has already elapsed and the Transport Ministers could not sit across the table as Pakistan still remains undecided over the two issues.
A senior official at the SAARC Desk under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told this correspondent that the ball remained in Pakistan court and it was Pakistan to let the ball roll. "SAARC will have to wait until a 'feel good' policy prevails upon the Sharif's government," The official remarked.
The official also said that Pakistan's 'lukewarm' bilateral relations between Afghanistan and India have not been able to melt ice, which has obviously created a hurdle to overcome the stalemate.
The diplomat who was at the negotiation at 18th SAARC Summit, argued that the contents of the proposed agreements  were discussed at various senior levels and there had been no objection from any country and earlier no one had indicated that they needed approvals of their internal processes.
The SAARC that groups Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka is home to 1.6 billion people. But poverty, poor connectivity and barriers to trade, besides tensions between member states like India and Pakistan, have been cited as reasons for the region not achieving its potential in the three decades of its existence.
Connectivity and its importance was a recurrent theme in the speeches of many other SAARC leaders such as Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Bhutan's Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay.
"The most obvious path to prosperity is through intra-regional this context we welcome finalisation of SAARC agreements on motor vehicles, regional railways and the inter-governmental framework for energy cooperation," Tobgay hoped.
The summit adopted the Kathmandu Declaration with the theme of "Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity" to deepen cooperation in core areas of trade, investment, finance, energy, infrastructure and connectivity.

Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
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