In line with its central theme, the 18th Saarc Summit will focus on integration, connectivity and economic cooperation among the member states.
“Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity” was chosen by the members to highlight the need to connect the region better with road and rail. The Saarc Motor Vehicle and Railway Agreements will ease vehicular traffic movement across the member countries.
As envisioned much earlier, the members are discussing to materialise the South Asian Union and Safta implementation by decreasing the negative list of tradable items. Acting Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi said increase in bilateral and multilateral investments in infrastructure sectors and proper utilisation of the South Asian Development Fund through its infrastructure, social and economic windows will figure high on the agenda.
The SDF is implementing nine projects under the social window, spending more than $300 million. Proposals have been floated to link Kathmandu with Delhi, Kabul with Dhaka; and Peshawar and Lahore of Pakistan with the Indian cities of Amritsar, New Delhi and Kolkata. In the second stage, more cities will be connected. Since South Asia needs huge resources and investments in infrastructure, the members have decided to activate the infrastructure window of the SDF, said Bairagi.
Another agenda is to operate cargo train between India-Bangladesh and Pakistan. The framework agreement will be followed by bilateral deals to implement rail and road connectivity. Besides, member states have proposed to open their residential missions in all other countries.
To achieve the goal of South Asian union, member states have agreed on customs union, common market and common economic zones. The Saarc Secretariat was directed to plan their implementation. Agendas being freshly discussed include setting a common global outlook, equal taxation on vehicle sale in member states, energy cooperation and youth charter.
Tourism and culture are considered the major bases for people-to-people contact. A meeting of Saarc foreign secretaries decided to improve agricultural productivity, and food and nutritional security, maximise the use of technology, and address adverse effects of climate change.
There’s more to summit than meets
The heads of state and government of Saarc countries will have bilateral meetings, and go on a retreat in Dhulikhel during their stay in Kathmandu for the Saarc Summit.
Apart from official engagements, the visiting dignitaries will tour religious and cultural sites such as Lumbini, Pashupatinath, Boudhha and Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
On the sidelines, Nepal and India will sign several pacts. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hand over the Trauma Centre and gift two advanced light helicopters to the Nepal government.
The PMs of Nepal and India will flag off direct bus operations between Kathmandu and New Delhi and witness the signing of agreements on declaring Kathmandu and Varanasi, Janakpur and Ayodhya, and Lumbini and Bodhgaya sister cities.
The guests will meet Nepali political leaders and discuss issues of bilateral and multilateral concern, the Foreign Ministry said.