The 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit concluded in Kathmandu on November 27 with some positive notes. The Electricity Agreement, despite Pak attempt to block it, was signed between the Member countries. The initiative of Indian starting a Bus service between India and Nepal was taken a very positive step. Presidents of Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives along with Prime Ministers of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan attended the Summit held in Kathmandu.
The bus service between India and Nepal was flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Kathmandu on November 25. Union Transport Minister of India Nitin Gadkari had inaugurated the bus from New Delhi on November 25. Shri Modi hoped that the step would strengthen bilateral ties between both the neighbours. The bus service is also expected to give a boost to trade and tourism between the two countries.
Passengers who ride the bus from Delhi to Kathmandu said they were provided complete security throughout the journey. The bus service is a direct service between the two national capitals and a single bus ticket costs Rs 2,300. Passengers are required to present an identification proof to purchase the same. Passengers can book their tickets for the bus 60 days in advance and this service will soon be available online. This is the second such bus service launched by India with one of its neighbouring countries. The first such service, called Sada-e-Sarhad, was launched by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in February 1999 from New Delhi to Lahore in Pakistan.
Despite Pak bid to block all the three agreements related to Motor vehicles, rail connectivity and energy, the Foreign Ministers of the eight member countries signed the agreement on energy cooperation at the concluding ceremony. The Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation (Electricity) aims to enable greater cooperation in the power sector among the member countries and is expected to improve power availability in the entire region and facilitate integrated operation of the regional power grid.
The motor vehicle and rail pacts which were blocked by Pakistan aimed at allowing vehicles to ply in member states with both cargo and passengers subject to various terms and conditions. The agreement, if signed, would result in closer regional economic cooperation and integration through enhanced regional connectivity by allowing movement of goods and people in the region by road. The railway pact also aimed at strengthening transport connectivity in the region and offers greater scope of promoting social and cultural contact and encourage tourism. The agreement proposes to enable low-cost efficient and environment friendly transportation in the region providing trade and economic links for landlocked and semi-isolated regions.
Blocking the agreements at eleventh hour was one reason of Pakistan isolation at SAARC Summit. Pak’s repeated attempts for creating tension in the region by instigating terrorism was also was other reason for isolation. The whole world noted with concern that when Pak PM Nawaz Sharief was shaking hands with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in Kathmandu the Pakistan supported terrorists were resorting to firing in J&K.
Noting that a good neighbourhood is a universal aspiration, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “If we are sensitive to each other's security, and the lives of our people, we will deepen friendships, spur cooperation and advance stability in our region.” He also promised a special funding vehicle, overseen by India, to finance infrastructure projects in the region, while also proposing a SAARC business travel card and cross-border industrial corridors to facilitate trade. “Indian companies are investing billions abroad, but less than 1 per cent flows into our own region. It is still harder to travel within our region than to Bangkok or Singapore, and more expensive to speak to each other,” he said. Giving an example of the lack of economic integration, Shri Modi said goods today have to travel from one Punjab in India to the other Punjab in Pakistan through New Delhi, Mumbai, Dubai and Karachi, making the journey 11 times longer and four times costlier. Pramod Kumar