Diplomats were scrambling till late on Tuesday night, ahead of the plenary session of SAARC leaders, as serious differences emerged over the agreements to be adopted at the conclusion of the summit.
While two agreements on motor vehicles movement and railway linkages were completed, sources said Pakistan had raised last minute objections to them and to passing the pact on energy cooperation.
According to officials from various countries present at the meeting, Pakistan’s foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz said the agreements were still “under discussion” within their government, and cited “insufficient time” provided by the SAARC secretariat to clear elements of the declaration through its own cabinet.
“We have hit a dead-end on this as far as the foreign ministers level is concerned, and our only hope is that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will agree in principle to clear all the agreements and the logistics for energy cooperation in due course,” a SAARC-nation diplomat told TheHindu .
External affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin confirmed that there were differences. “Despite our trying very hard to have concrete results on agreements, there has been no consensus yet. We will see how it progresses, but one state has indicated they have yet to complete internal processes.”
Diplomats said the Pakistani objections weren’t the only issue in the proposed declaration that led to tense moments at the SAARC foreign ministers’ meeting on Tuesday. The role of the nine observers at the Summit is also likely to be amended to accept the requests from some of the observers, most notably China and the U.S., for a greater engagement with SAARC. While Nepal has expressed willingness to accept China’s request for a “larger and more regular” role, India has pushed for a “project by project” engagement to fund and execute regional projects, in the areas of connectivity, environment, health and energy.
China’s Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, who is heading the Chinese Observer delegation, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal, met with SAARC secretary-general Arjun Bahadur Thapa to discuss the contours of the discussions. However officials dismissed reports that China had put in an official proposal to be accepted as a member-state, even as Indian diplomats said the concerns over the possibility was “exaggerated.”
The Kathmandu declaration, as it is likely to be called once it is adopted on Thursday, was expected to include a 26-point agenda, with two ‘framework’ agreements on easing the movement of motor vehicles and passenger traffic across the SAARC region, as well as one on developing railway links between all the countries, that would facilitate trade.