Enmity between India and Pakistan is one of the main reasons behind the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) not prospering, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen said, while expressing optimism about other regional initiatives such as the BIMSTEC and the BBIN.
His remark follows an exchange between India and Pakistan, blaming each other for the lack of cooperation and coordination among the SAARC member states earlier this month.
Mr. Momen, while interacting with a group of foreign journalists at the closing ceremony of ‘Visit Nepal-Bangladesh Programme-2019’ hosted by the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry here, said the prosperity of SAARC was being obstructed by the enmity between India and Pakistan.
“You know why SAARC is not prospering, one main reason is the enmity between India and Pakistan. But BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) should do better. We have to work harder and in that process things should work better,” he said.
Mr. Momen also said Bangladesh’s ties with neighbours Nepal and Bhutan was on an upswing. Nowadays, whenever Bangladesh talks to India, Nepal and Bhutan were also discussed, he added.
His remarks on SAARC comes weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India’s efforts for greater collaboration among the SAARC countries have repeatedly been challenged with threats and acts of terrorism.
In a letter to the SAARC secretariat to mark the founding day of the eight-member bloc, the Prime Minister said all countries in the region should take effective steps to defeat the scourge of terrorism and the forces which support it, an oblique reference to Pakistan.
Such efforts, he said, would generate greater trust and confidence to build a stronger SAARC.
In the last three years, India has been distancing itself from SAARC, citing security challenges facing the region from terror networks based in Pakistan, which is also a member of the grouping.
On his part, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his message during the 35th SAARC Charter Day on December 8, expressed the hope that the hiatus created in SAARC’s continuous progression would be removed.
A few days later, Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesperson Mohammad Faisal said all South Asian countries except one want to hold the SAARC summit, which was called off in 2016, at the earliest, an apparent reference to India.
The last SAARC summit in 2014 was held in Kathmandu and was attended by Mr. Modi.
The 2016 SAARC summit was to be held in Islamabad. But after the terrorist attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir on September 18 that year, India expressed its inability to participate in the summit due to “prevailing circumstances”.
The summit was called off after Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan also declined to participate in the Islamabad meet.
SAARC summits are usually held biennially and hosted by member states in alphabetical order. The member state hosting the summit assumes the Chair of the Association.
On December 8, 1985 at the first SAARC Summit in Dhaka, the leaders of the seven South Asian states — the Maldives, India, Bhutan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — signed a charter to establish the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Afghanistan became the eight SAARC member in 2007.