Personal tools
You are here: Home News Analysis and Views Sushil-led Government-40
Log in

Forgot your password?

Sushil-led Government-40

November Issue 2014

SAARC Summit In Nepal


Siddhi B Ranjitkar


At the SAARC summit of the heads of state or government held in Kathmandu on November 26, 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered the commanding speech, and demonstrated that he was willing to lead the SAARC region to prosperity, and he offered a number of things to other SAARC heads of state or government to take for common development. Whether the member States could take it or not remains to be seen.


PM Modi said, “The future I dream for India is the future I wish for our entire region.”

The statement has many meanings but the first meaning I could conceive was that India would lead this region. So, whatever he would do for India he would do for the region, too. PM Modi has not disclosed what dream he has for India, yet.


Then, PM Modi frankly said, “I know India has to lead, and we will do our part. I hope, each of you will, too. We must shrink the distance between our producers and consumers and use the most direct routes of trade.” In this statement, PM Modi offered an open trade among the SAARC countries, and asked other heads of state or government to accept and do the needful things to this end.


PM Modi said, “Infrastructure is my greatest priority in India. And, I also want to set up a Special Purpose Facility in India to finance infrastructure projects in our region that enhances our connectivity and trade.”


To finance infrastructure projects in the SAARC region for development of connectivity and then to enhance the trade in this region, PM Modi offered to set up a funding system in India most likely similar to the Asian Infrastructures Development Bank set up in Beijing, China recently.


Another offer PM Modi made saying, “We speak of ease of doing business in India. Let's extend this to our region. I promise to ensure that our facilities at the border will speed up, not slow down trade.” PM Modi was very clear of the need for easing the trade among the SAARC countries, and urged other countries to do the same what he would do in India.


Getting down to the nitty-gritty of businesses, PM Modi said, “Let's all make our procedures simple, our facilities better, our standards common and our paper work less burdensome.” If all the SAARC countries were to take this offer of PM Modi, the region would have the best business environment in the world. PM Modi even offered to have a common business traveler card in the region saying, “Let's make our businesses easier through a SAARC Business Traveler Card.”


PM Modi said that the huge trade surplus India has with the SAARC countries was neither right nor sustainable. To remedy this unacceptable trade imbalance among the SAARC countries, PM Modi said, “We will address your concerns and give you a level playing field in India. But, I encourage you to attract Indian investments to produce for the Indian market and create jobs for your youths.”


Demonstrating his great vision for the future of the SAARC region, PM Modi said, “I also look to a future when your companies can easily raise funds in India for investments at home; and, when we have cross-border industrial corridors, so that we can take advantage of the natural synergies and connected lives in our Border States.”


Concerning the power potential in the region, PM Modi said, “Let us treat electricity as a commodity like any other that we invest and trade in. India will fully support these initiatives in the region. I also believe that if we can light up each other's towns and villages, we can build a brighter tomorrow for our region. Or, face a future when someone looks down at us from Space, and says that this is world's darkest corner.”


Finally, PM Modi said, “We can all choose our paths to our destinations. But when we join our hands and walk in step, the path becomes easier, the journey quicker and the destination closer. I say this as much to my government and people, I say to you.” (All the quotes of PM Modi was from his speech posted on on November 26, 2014)


PM Modi missed one vital political issue. It was understandable, as the SAARC countries could talk only about the regional development not the politics following its statute.


These are the challenging offer PM Modi made to the heads of state or government of the SAARC, let us see whether they could take it or not.


Starting from Afghanistan: the latecomer to SAARC, let us see whether the offer made by PM Modi was realistic to it or simply a wishful thinking. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was a newly elected president in the second round of elections after making an agreement on power sharing with his rival Abdullah Abdullah. He might command his rule only in those areas where the NATO forces had been keeping security. The tribal heads commanded the tribal areas and he might not be able to reach them to rule over. Taliban forces had been fighting fiercely with the NATO forces and the government forces. Taliban leaders believed that once NATO forces would leave the country they could overrun the State forces and win the country once they had ruled, and lost to the forces of NATO led by the US President George W Bush in 2002 to crush the al-Qaeda terrorists taking shelter in Afghanistan after the 911 attack on Twin Towers and Pentagon in the USA. In addition, Afghanistan was cut off by Pakistan. President Ghani needed to cross the Pakistani airspace to fly to other SAARC countries and his people needed to cross the Pakistan border to reach the countries of the SAARC region. So, despite his willingness to accept the offers made by PM Modi, the deciding factor for President Ghani would be Pakistan.


Bangladesh had been the East Pakistan until it broke away in 1972 after the bitter civil war it fought against the West Pakistan thanks to the refusal of the then powerful west Pakistani leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to turn over the power to Sheikh Mujiber Rahaman: Leader of the Awami League that won the majority seats in the parliament in the general elections held in 1971. Thereafter, Bangladesh underwent political instability of which army generals took advantage, and sidelined the democratic system of rule for some years. Only recently, democracy seemed to be returning back in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina might be able to take some of the offer made by PM Modi bilaterally but as the member of the SAARC she might not be able to. She had been facing strong challenges even to have better and friendly and business like relations with India.


Bhutan is a tiny country but it is one of the SAARC members. It needed to accept the offer made by PM Modi if other countries were to accept it. Bhutan has the democratic system imposed by its monarch that valued the happiness of his people more than the economic prosperity. So, he pushed about 200,000 Bhutanese of Nepal origin out of the country, as they wanted rights to live humanely. These Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal wanted to go back to Bhutan but not only the Bhutanese monarch did not take them back but also the Indian rulers preceding to PM Modi did not allow Bhutanese to step in its territory to go back to Bhutan. The irony is that the then Indian rulers gladly allowed the Bhutanese to come out of Bhutan, and then go through the Indian Territory to enter Nepal.


India is an emerging nation as a strong democratic and economic power. Indian voters have shown that democracy has deep roots in India. They ended the monopoly of the Indian Congress party on the rule and gave overwhelming power to Bharatiya Janata Party led by Narendra Modi. Consequently, currently, Narendra Modi has a solid majority in the Indian parliament. So, he could be the deciding factor not only in India but also in the region, and ultimately in the world, too. That’s why PM Modi could deliver such a powerful speech at the SAARC summit. However, without settling the political issues with the neighboring countries particularly Pakistan, and keeping happy other countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, PM Modi would not be able to do much even if he wanted to. However, his country India had successfully prevented Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal from doing business among them denying access to each other through India.


Maldives is a country of tiny Islands floating on the Indian Ocean. These islands were lying so low the rising ocean due to the warming climate might swallow them in the near future. So, the visionary ruler of Maldives had offered its citizens cash to buy land and make homes in other countries of their choice. The offer of PM Modi might not make much sense to Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.


Nepal has already received many things from PM Modi but the Nepalese leaders particularly the leaders of the coalition government of NC and CPN-UML had not been able to cash them properly. These Nepalese leaders had been very smart to use everything if the things were to benefits them personally and to their party leadership. PM Modi has rightly offered his suggestion to the squabbling Nepalese leaders over the crafting of a new constitution for crafting a new constitution following a consensus not only of all political parties but also of all Nepalese so that all Nepalese would be proud of it. However, Nepalese leaders might take such a good piece of suggestion as interference in the internal affairs of the country. Former Indian ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood writing an opinion posted on the on November 22, 2014 stated, “India is often first invited to play the role of peacemaker and then blamed for interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs.” More often than not, Nepalese leaders blamed Indian leaders for interference whenever they needed to gain political advantage. Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala might settle everything with PM Modi bilaterally rather than going multilaterally.


Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif must be very envious of Indian PM Modi that has demonstrated so much power and determination to do something not only for his country but also for the entire region. Even if PM Sharif were willing to accept the offer made by PM Modi he would not be able to do so. To do so, he needed to mend the broken relationship with India but he could not do it because the Pakistani army would not allow him to do so. Without the never-ending border tension with India, the Pakistani army would have not much to do, and would not be so powerful to interfere in the civilian rule. PM Sharif was not as strong as PM Modi in his own country even though PM Sharif also was the elected to the office. As in Afghanistan, Pakistan has many tribal rulers that did not accept the rule of PM Sharif. Once Pakistan had trained Taliban, and supported them to fight against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan in 1990s. Currently, Pakistan had the problem of Taliban of its own making, and Pakistan had been the breeding ground for Islamist terrorists that frequently sneaked into India through Nepal using the open border Nepal and India share.


Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited Lumbini: birthplace of Lord Buddha in Nepal but he could not wash his hands of the sin he had committed allowing his army to kill millions of innocent Tamils in Northern Sri Lanka taking them for terrorists. He needed to face the human law court if he could avoid it he would certainly face the divine court or the nature’s court for the non-believers. President Rajapaksa might be thinking that he had root out the Tamils’ claim for equal rights to work and live as Sri Lankan citizens but it might have remained suppressed only. So, it might surface at anytime in the future. Even Tamils in India did not want to forgive President Rajapaksa for what he had done to the innocent Tamils in Sri Lanka with the military power. What such a president would be able to think of the offer made by PM Modi.


So, whatever PM Modi generously made the offer to the SAARC member countries for the overall development and prosperity of the region, the SAARC member countries would either not be able to take it or would not take it at all. PM Modi knew it but he made it to sound out how the SAARC members would react to it. So, for many years to come the SAARC summit would be a gathering of heads of State or government for delivering speeches and enjoying the handshakes, and certainly enjoying an annual trip to the SAARC-summit-organizing country at the high cost to the common folks.


Australia, China, the European Union, Iran, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mauritius, Myanmar, and the US participated in the SAARC summit as observes. The EU, Australia, China, Japan and South Korea have already been working with the SAARC member countries on various areas of economic development. SAARC members welcomed the participation of observers in the Summit.


On November 27, 2014, the SAARC summiteers came out with the “Thirty-Six-Point Kathmandu Declaration”.


PM Modi invited the heads of State and Government to the oath-taking ceremony of his office in New Delhi in May 2014. It was the gesture of friendly approach to the neighboring countries even before Modi took the oat of office.


Before coming to Nepal for participating in the SAARC summit, PM Modi had his cabinet approved the signing of "SAARC Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation (Electricity), the signing and ratifying the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement, and also approved the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to sign similar bilateral agreements and protocols with other SAARC-member States.”


The Cabinet also has authorized “the signing of a bilateral agreement for the regulation of passenger traffic between India and Nepal, and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between India and Nepal for strengthening cooperation on the tourism” on the sidelines of the SAARC summit, according to the PTI news on November 21, 2014.


PM Modi also had tailored his speech to meet this year’s summit theme “Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity”.


A brief note on SAARC: Initially, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was of seven-south-Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka when it was conceived by King Birendra of Nepal and President Ziaur Rahaman of Bangladesh in 1980s to set up an association on which they could stand at the equal height of the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. In 2000s, Afghanistan joined in the SAARC making it an eight-member regional association.


At the time of setting up of the SAARC, Nepal became the only country acceptable to all seven nations for setting up a SAARC secretariat. Pakistan would never accept India for the SAARC secretariat, India would not accept Bangladesh not to mention Pakistan, Sri Lanka had the civil war; Bhutan and Maldives were very small to accommodate the SAARC secretariat.


November 30, 2014

Document Actions