January – March
- Connectivity, Trade, Infrastructure
- Neighbourhood Watch
CONNECTIVITY, TRADE, INFRASTRUCTURE
30 March 2015
Govt keen on pushing the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal subgroup, to both bypass and energise the wider grouping.
The Narendra Modi government is aggressively pushing for a sub-regional grouping – ‘BBIN’ (comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) – under the larger ambit of the eight-member South Asian Association for RegionalCooperation (Saarc).
27 March 2015
India signs agreement with the lender to develop 500km of roads along the north Bengal-north eastern region
“The loan is the first tranche under a $500-million multi-tranche South Asian Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) road connectivity investment programme.
“The tranche 1 project will construct two national highways totalling about 150km in West Bengal, and state roads totalling about 180km in Manipur, extending to Myanmar. The project is expected to be completed by 31 December 2021,” the statement said. SASEC is an initiative to promote economic cooperation between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. In 1996, these four South Asian neighbours formed the South Asian Growth Quadrangle (SAGQ) with the primary objective of accelerating sustainable economic development among them.
24 March 2015
China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative is an opportunity for Nepal and other Asian countries to improve their regional and global connectivity, Nepal has said.
“Silk Road revival is not only Nepal-China affairs alone. It is heartening to learn that most of SAARC members have also planned to join either the Maritime Silk Road or the Silk Road Economic Belt. This is really a good beginning for enhancing regional and global connectivity,” the minister said.
India’s merchandise trade with seven South Asian countries has reached USD 19.21 billion during April-January period of the current fiscal.
The same stood at USD 20 billion in 2013-14. “During the five-year period of 2009-10 to 2013-14, Indian exports to SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries grew at a compounded annual growth rate of 20.18 per cent, while imports grew at 10.52 per cent,” Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha.
The main products traded between these countries include agri goods, electronics, textiles, dairy products and metals.
17 March 2015
India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan are expected to implement a pact soon that will provide seamless transit of passenger and cargo vehicles among these four SAARC nations, the Centre said on Monday.
The agreement, which is awaiting approvals from the respective local authorities before it is implemented later this year, has a provision for other four SAARC nations to join the framework.
The agreement will allow passenger, personal and cargo vehicles to travel along designated key routes in the four SAARC countries without the need for trans-shipment of goods and passengers at the border crossings.
12 March 2015
In an attempt to boost trade in the South Asian region, members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) are finalizing mutually acceptable standards in products in five sectors with significant trade interest for member countries. Divergence in standards is considered a major non-tariff barrier for trade not picking up in the region.
Saarc members established the South Asian Regional Standards Organisation (Sarso) on 25 August 2011. It became operational in Dhaka with effect from 3 April 2014. The identified sectors for harmonization of standards include food and agricultural products, jute; textile and leather; building materials; chemicals and chemical products and electrical and electronic products. Products which sectoral technical committees are currently studying include sugar, biscuits, jute bags, cement and shampoo.
The SAARC Trade Promotion Network (TPN) has come up with an initiative to establish a ‘NTM Desk’ in leading trade bodies of all the SAARC countries two years ago. The SAARC TPN is a regional platform consisting of 28 public and private institutions from the eight member-countries of the regional bloc. While public sector members are national commerce or trade ministers or departments or promotion agencies, private sector members are leading trade bodies of the member-states. So, the platform is a kind of private-public partnership. On a pilot basis, three NTM desks were established in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.
11 March 2015
VK Singh, Minister of State for External Affairs, Government of India emphasized that South Asia and SAARC have an opportunity to ensure that an environment is created where industry and trade could prosper and become a powerhouse of trade and commerce in the region.
Suraj Vaidya, senior vice president, SAARC CCI, added that this year SAARC has a focused business agenda, and in November it plans to come out with a concrete document describing the challenges faced by member states and a way forward to increase intra-regional trade.
9 March 2015
The Saarc Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Saarc CCI) will hold a two-day 63rd Executive Committee and General Assembly in New Delhi along with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) starting from Tuesday with the formation of a South Asian Investment Caucus. The Caucus is a forum of Saarc chief executive officers (CEOs). The industry chambers are expected will announce a series of initiatives at the sub-regional level focusing on specialised agendas.
In this respect, the Saarc CCI will execute two projects – Saarc Shipping Company and Saarc Transport and Logistics Company – with private and public sector participation.
5 March 2015
The Exim Bank sees huge potential for project exports in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) region.
“Interconnectivity between Saarc countries is a big infrastructure development opportunity for Indian companies. The prime minister too had expressed his interest in establishing seamless connectivity in the region during the last summit. We have started working on a feasibility study on private investments in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV).
Projects executed in Saarc region currently accounts for 25-30 per cent of Exim bank’s business and largest chunk of its financing goes for the projects in war-ravaged Sri Lanka.
With Pakistan not giving ‘Most Favoured Nation’ tag to India and the rail route from Attari not integrated with the land check post, a whole lot of items have to be exported to Pakistan through the sea route, making it unviable for both sides. Pakistan imports nearly 5,000 items from India, out of which only 137 can go through the Attari road route. The rest have to go all the way to ports down south to be shipped through sea routes.
On March 20, 2012, Pakistan had notified its much-awaited ‘Negative List’, which opened up trade for additional 5,000 odd items. This was a quantum jump — from the 2,000-less items which were earlier allowed to be imported from India. However, what came as a rude realization later was that out of these, only 137 items could be imported through Attari road route.
The opening of the Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Wagah in 2013 was largely considered as a quantum leap for Indo-Pak trade prospects, expected to increase from $2.5 billion to nearly $10 billion soon. Punjab, in particular, and North India in general were expected to benefit the most.
3 February 2015
With Pakistan scuttling an ambitious multilateral agreement to link South Asian nations via road and rail networks, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh have come together to stitch together a similar deal to boost regional trade and cultural exchange among themselves.
The road agreement will lay down the protocol for vehicular traffic movement between Saarc countries for better people-to-people connectivity and cargo movement. The agreement is also supposed to promote Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar (APIBM) transport corridors through a proposed Asian Highway, Trans-Asian Railway and land and sea-routes, which will connect South Asia with South East Asian countries, China, Central Asia and West Asia.
2 February 2015
India plans to reduce the number of sensitive items that are at present subject to import duty under the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) for Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
According to the Department of Commerce of Sri Lanka, the bilateral trade between India and Sri Lanka stood at US$ 3.63 billion in 2013. The balance of trade always remained in favor of India with exports from Sri Lanka were at $ 543.3 million while total imports from India were at US$ 3.09 billion.
21 February 2015
One of the easiest ways to boost economic activity is by promoting regional economic integration that facilitates freer movement of goods, services and investment, helping to achieve regional developmental objectives by creating jobs. But in eastern South Asia, this process is being held up by misguided decisions, strategies and outdated ideas.
A container usually takes 20–25 days and occasionally even up to 60 days to move from New Delhi to Dhaka, as the maritime route is via Mumbai, then to Singapore or Colombo before reaching Chittagong and then by rail to Dhaka. The same container could have been moved to Dhaka within three to four days with direct rail connectivity between New Delhi and Dhaka, as highlighted in SAARC-ADB studies.
14 February 2015
India may allow vehicles from Bangladesh to enter and ply in the country when they bring goods, in a big brother gesture to improve bilateral ties and facilitate trade by reducing freight costs and decongesting borders.
The measure was originally planned as a bilateral agreement, but with no response from Bangladesh for about a year, the commerce department has now proposed a unilateral offer, government officials said.
15 February 2015
Four members of Saarc comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are close to signing a deal allowing cross-border movement of motor vehicles. The four countries are Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Bhutan.
The positive move will allow movement of vehicles through their borders just like in European countries. The deal will also allow vehicles to ply on designated routes within the four member countries. The countries have drawn up a draft plan for transit of passengers, cargo and personal vehicles.
India, Bhutan and Nepal have accepted a Bangladeshi recommendation to keep the membership of the sub-regional group open so that neighbouring countries like Myanmar and China can connect to the region if they wish.
Bangladesh is making desperate efforts to link China through road communications through Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, via Myanmar. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, during her visit to China last year, also proposed connectivity through road via Kunming to boost exports and imports between the two countries.
17 March 2015
“After years of negotiation, BIMSTEC nations have finalised the draft of the deal,” said Anwar Hossain, joint secretary of the power division.
The draft will now be placed at the forthcoming BIMSTEC Energy Secretaries’ Conference and finally at the Third Energy Ministers’ Meeting in Kathmandu sometime this year for signing, according to foreign ministry officials.
Bangladesh has already set up cross border electricity grid with India for importing 500 MW power.
It is currently seeking import of around 3,500 MW of additional electricity through bilateral and sub-regional joint ventures from India, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan by 2030.
The BIMSTEC deal is quite akin to the SAARC Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation signed in Kathmandu in November last year to set up a South Asian regional grid for cross-border power trade.
Many anticipate that the BIMSTEC move would push forward the SAARC deal as well.
11 March 2015
Pakistan: Japanese Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Kazuyuki Nakane wants enhanced co-operation among the South Asian Association of Regional Co-operation (Saarc) countries to address their energy problems.
On the institutional side, Japan supported Pakistan’s efforts to reform its power sector. Japan was promoting co-operation with India and Bangladesh for the construction of high efficiency coal-fired power plants using Japanese technology, he said, adding his country was providing assistance to Nepal for the construction of a hydro-power plant. “Sri Lanka and Bhutan are being provided assistance for development of transmission and distribution grid whereas Japan is also extending co-operation to Afghanistan for solar power generation.”
27 March 2015
The Currency Swap Agreement with Sri Lanka was inked in backdrop of the announcement of May 2012 by the RBI Governor during the SAARCFINANCE Governor’s meeting, held in Nepal. At the meeting, RBI had offered swap facilities aggregating 2 billion US dollar, both in foreign currency and Indian Rupee to neighbouring countries of the SAARC region.
The swap arrangement is intended to provide a backstop line of funding for the SAARC member countries to meet any balance of payments and liquidity crises till longer term arrangements are made or if there is need for short-term liquidity due to market turbulence.
20 March 2015
ISLAMABAD: The 21st SAARCFINANCE Coordinators’ meeting held here at National Institute of Banking and Finance (NIBAF) reviewed progress of SAARCFINANCE activities and prepared the draft agenda for the 30th SAARCFINANCE Group meeting scheduled to be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh on June 12, 2015.
Ashraf Mahmood Wathra, governor State Bank of Pakistan and chairman of SAARCFINANCE noted that the harmonization of banking rules was also an important area for strengthening economic and financial integration in the region.
SAARC & NEIGHBOURHOOD
30 March 2015
“We in South Asia do believe that India does have a wherewithal and resolve to step to the plate and ensure that it achieves its economic goals because if India rises we are confident the entire region will rise with India,” Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit said at an industry chamber function here.
28 March 2015
Indian Prime Minister’s recent five day long three nation tour to Seychelles, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka is a giant step towards cultivating good relations with neighbours in Indian Ocean neighbourhood.
Signing of four agreements- mapping hydrology reserves through hydrographic survey, renewable energy, infrastructure development and coastal surveillance radar project leading to joint development of electronic navigation charts -reinforces commitment to engage.
Seychelles is slated to be a full partner in the maritime security cooperation between India, Maldives and Sri Lanka. Both countries recently agreed to establish a Joint Working Group to expand cooperation on the Blue Economy.
26 March 2015
In a clear reference to the growing demand for Chinese space services in India’s neighbourhood, ISRO chairman A S Kiran Kumar has said that the proposal to launch the SAARC satellite was a direct result of “other players” offering their services to countries in the region.
In an interview to The Indian Express, Kiran Kumar said there were commercial as well as strategic reasons behind launching the SAARC satellite. “But more than these, in this region you also have a large number of other players trying to come in and get into operations,” he said, without naming China.
Cross-cultural collaborations will be on show during the four-day South Asian Festival titled the ‘SASIAN Journey’ beginning on March 28 at The Ashoka Hotel (New Delhi).
The festival is an endeavour to bring all SAARC nations together to jointly address the issue of employment and enhance regional integration. SASIAN will be a launch pad for sustainable, cross cultural collaborations of South Asians across the globe.
25 March 2015
Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar will visit Nepal next week on the second leg of his ‘SAARC yatra’ aimed at firming up India’s ties with members of the grouping while reviewing regional and bilateral cooperation. He will arrive in Nepal on April 2 on a three-day visit during which he will hold talks with the country’s top leadership.
Within the SAARC region, India is the largest economy in terms of its gross domestic product and the size of its market. It is the most strategically located, as a center point of the SAARC region, with both land and sea connectivity with other SAARC member states. India shares a land border with four member nations and a sea border with two others. No other SAARC nation shares a common border with each other. Due to its strategic location, India acts as an important trans-shipment hub for the land-locked SAARC member states such as Nepal and Bhutan. According to an estimate, more than 50 percent of the total trade for these countries takes place with India. The trade statistics from 2013-2014 show that within SAARC, a majority of India’s trade takes place with Bangladesh (33.3 percent), Sri Lanka (26 percent) and Nepal (20.6 percent).
18 March 2015
It needs to be seen by the major states of South Asia that SAARC progress could be boosted greatly as a result of arms spending by them being drastically reduced. It is to the degree to which the material progress of this region is advanced that SAARC collective empowerment could be achieved in considerable measure. This would enable SAARC to be less dependent on extra-regional powers for the fulfillment of their economic and defence needs.
On a three day visit to Kolkata, Pakistan’s High Commissioner Abdul Basit explained his country’s position on a whole range of issues in an interview withThe Hindu.
17 March 2015
The Nepal Agricultural Research Council (Narc) is organising the 2015 Saarc Wheat Rust Training Course with the DRRW and Sathguru Management Consultants, India. The course is the fifth such event held in South Asia, resulting in ever increasing, interconnected scientific capacity to deal with the threat of wheat rusts in the region.
Wheat is the second most important crop after rice in the Saarc countries, and is the staple diet in Pakistan and India.
Outbreaks of wheat rust pose a threat to global food security.
16 March 2015
Maldives will not take instructions from a foreign government on domestic issues, declared Dunya curtly. Many analysts see a surreptitious China hand in the harsh treatment meted out to an overtly pro-India Nasheed and Maldivian foreign minister’s subsequent snubbing of the Indian leadership.
Also, a section of India’s security establishment is of the firm opinion that Beijing, having lost the plot in Sri Lanka with Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resounding electoral defeat, has fixed its eyes on a strategically located Maldives.
15 March 2015
With this rule, Central government employees will be able to avail of the LTC facility for trips to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Pakistan is the only SAARC nation which has not been included in the scheme.
13 March 2015
A three-week training for superintendent-ranked police officials from the Saarc countries ended in Dhaka yesterday with a hope to combat transnational crimes.
10 March 2015
“Exchange, cooperation and building of joint ventures amongst SAARC countries would help in development of nations in the region besides alleviating poverty,” the Minister of State for External Affairs said at SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (SAARC CCI) executive committee meeting.
9 March 2015
Narendra Modi’s upcoming ‘Hind Mahasagar Yatra’ is another exercise in New Delhi’s attempt to curb China’s increasing strategic influence in the region.
After making large investments in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Pakistan, China is looking to expand its presence in Bangladesh, and the strategically important island nations of Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles in the Indian Ocean Region. It has shown interest in funding the development of Chittagong in Bangladesh as a potential trade hub, and has signed a deal to supply Dhaka two Ming-class submarines. All these developments have given rise to the fear that Chinese warships may dock at Chittagong in the future.
New Delhi has recognised the challenge offered by China in the Indian Ocean Region, and its response is visible. A strategic rethink in India’s defence and strategic policy for the Bay of Bengal is underway, and the Indian Ocean now commands more Indian diplomatic capital than ever before.
8 March 2015
Former diplomat Sheel Kant Sharma, who served as secretary general of SAARC, says the trip was a “very good move”, especially as the last SAARC summit took place in November in Nepal with the general understanding that members would work to strengthen the South Asian bloc.
“And India has taken the initiative to again meet and talk to people and activate the whole SAARC paradigm. In that sense it is good,” Sharma told IANS.
He said that with Pakistan being the next chair of SAARC, “it is incumbent on Pakistan to also be constructive so that their summit will be successful next year”.
7 March 2015
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s apparent move to revamp the eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is being viewed by analysts as ‘a cold lemonade in the sun-burnt Sahara.’ His immediate dispatch of newly-appointed Indian foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to SAARC capitals-the latter’s first overseas assignment–reflects the great importance Modi attaches to the potential of the SAARC as an engine of growth for the entire region.
It will be Bangladesh first to feel shocked if the SAARC suffers a debacle. This is because it was Dhaka which had mooted the idea for such a regional cooperation. Bangladesh will surely be happy if it could contribute its efforts to strengthening of the Association.
5 March 2015
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will offer island nations in the Indian Ocean a broad range of military and civilian assistance next week in a bid to wrest back some of the influence China has gained by spending billions of dollars in the region.
Mr. Modi will make the pledges during a visit to Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles after decades of neglect by successive Indian governments. His trip to Sri Lanka will be the first in 28 years by an Indian Prime Minister.
Security, and talks with the Taliban, development and connectivity were at the top of the agenda when Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar visited Kabul on the last leg of this phase of his “SAARC yatra”.
According to officials, while Mr. Jaishankar discussed the SAARC agenda on road connectivity and other agreements, he was briefed by his Afghan counterpart Deputy Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai on the security situation in Afghanistan and soon-to-be announced talks with the Taliban.
Indian and Afghan officials also discussed projects being developed by India in Afghanistan including new projects worth about $120 on laying water pipelines announced in January 2015. India has announced development aid of $2 billion to Afghanistan, although some of its key projects like the construction of the Afghan parliament in Kabul and the Salma Dam in Heart have been delayed.
4 March 2015
Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar arrived in Kabul on Wednesday to hold talks with the Afghan leadership as part of his “SAARC Yatra” aimed at firming up India’s ties with members of the grouping while reviewing regional and bilateral cooperation.
Mr. Jaishankar, who started his trip on Sunday with Bhutan and visited Bangladesh and Pakistan, will round off the first leg of his “SAARC Yatra” with Afghanistan.
The primary objective of Jaishankar’s SAARC yatra is to find out which countries are for and which are against Modi’s SAARC development vision enunciated in his speech in Kathmandu three months ago. New Delhi must let Pakistan know that its age-old policy of stonewalling connectivity efforts within SAARC will no longer be allowed to succeed.
3 March 2015
Briefing presspersons, Mr. Haque said the main message of his counterpart was that India wanted a deeper friendship with Bangladesh.“We discussed bilateral, regional and international issues including the Land Boundary Agreement and Teesta, but nothing specific.”
The LBA is now expected to be tabled in the Indian Parliament for clearance, and the West Bengal Chief Minister has already assured Dhaka of her support for the Teesta deal during her visit to Dhaka last month.
Bangladesh foreign secretary Mohammad Shahidul Haque today praised the Narendra Modi government for seeking solutions to bilateral disputes “quickly”, after his meeting with Indian foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in Dhaka.
The praise – rare from Bangladesh which has long harboured grievances over India’s failure to deliver on key promises – came on Jaishankar’s second pit-stop in a whirlwind tour of four neighbours dubbed a Saarc yatra by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Two sub-regional issues were discussed – water and power links, and connectivity and transport links. The next meeting on sub-regional cooperation with India, Bhutan and Nepal will be held in the second half of the year.
Shahidul said improving the capacities of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) were discussed.
The foreign secretary said India would remove all trade barriers and would soon respond to a list of para-tariff barriers submitted to the Indian side.
The Bangladesh side, Haque said, expressed its concern over the Teesta issue and Indian side took it positively. Bangladesh has long been pushing for signing the Teesta water sharing deal so that its rightful share of water is guaranteed. “The Indian side seems to be positive,” said the secretary adding that they want to resolve the issues immediately.
“India attaches top priority to its close-door neighbours,” said Haque quoting the Indian foreign secretary as saying in the meeting.
While Indian officials have taken care to downplay the visit’s significance, calling it a “SAARC yatra not a Pak yatra”, it seems clear that the trip has been made with a special emphasis on Pakistan.
The decision to re-engage with Pakistan, through whichever means, signifies two things: one that the decision to cancel talks in July 2014 was only a temporary one for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the assumption that talks could be restarted at a later point, and two, that engaging Pakistan is the norm, rather than an aberration.
There is an obvious shift in the power balance at the core of Pakistan: the civil-military equation. In recent weeks, it is clear that army chief General Raheel Sharif has a new stature inside Pakistan, with primacy on all issues, not just the ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ operation and efforts against terror groups as part of the National Action Plan announced after the Peshawar school massacre.
Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar met with his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhury for talks in Islamabad he described were held in a “constructive and positive atmosphere”, with a “determination to forge a cooperative relationship with Pakistan”. This is the first such meeting since 2012, and seven months after the last planned foreign secretary talks were cancelled by India.
“I conveyed the expectations of our leadership on SAARC and their determination to forge a cooperative relationship with all our neighbours. We discussed ideas and initiatives to take SAARC forward. Pakistan will be the next SAARC Chair and India would like to work with Pakistan to help SAARC achieve its potential,” he said.
It is a crucial day in the SAARC yatra as India’s Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar is visiting Pakistan on Tuesday. The issue of repeated ceasefire violations is likely to top the agenda when he meets his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary.
He is also likely to push for better connectivity in the region through a Motor Vehicle Agreement – with or without Pakistan. India is hoping that Pakistan supports the proposal. India has already engaged in talks with Bhutan and Bangladesh in this regard.
`I conveyed the expectations of our leadership on SAARC and their determination to forge a cooperative relationship with all our neighbours. We discussed ideas and initiatives to take SAARC forward,” the Indian Foreign Secretary told the media in Pakistan in a statement.
The SAARC Yatra to be undertaken by Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar from March 1 is an opportunity for India to improve relations, resurrect stalled projects and create new synergies with its neighbourhood. An initiative like this could hold the key to India shedding the ‘hegemon’ tag and pursuing mutually beneficial policies with its neighbours.
By focusing on SAARC’s development agenda, the yatra could surmount the diarchic entropy with which the organistion remains afflicted.
It will, for the first time, give equal priority and mind-space in India’s foreign policy to countries other than Pakistan. ASEAN has shown SAARC the way to boost commitment and delivery of regional projects and make common cause of confronting global challenges.
The unilateral decision for a foreign secretary to visit all SAARC members, unmindful of reciprocity, is a unique step. It finally projects India’s readiness to pursue a proactive and mutually beneficial policy towards all its South Asian neighbours.
Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar’s visit to SAARC countries that began March 1 is an opportunity to examine the political trajectories in the region. While democracy in some countries like Sri Lanka is on an upswing, in others, like Bangladesh, it is in decline. With China’s growing economic influence in South Asia, can Indian democracy be an effective counterpoint?
While the presence of China in South Asian economies will continue to expand, democracy, as seen maturing in India, will remain the preoccupation of the people in the region.
2 March 2015
India today said it expects to sign two agreements with Bangladesh soon to further boost bilateral trade and commerce as Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar today held “constructive” talks with the top leadership here.
“We would sign two deals – The Protocol on Trade, and The Agreement on Coastal Shipping – with Bangladesh soon,” he [Hasina’s press secretary AKM Shameem Chowdhury ] quoted Jaishankar as saying.
Haque said he discussed with his counterpart the “problems” of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and ways to overcome them alongside the prospects of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). “We discussed the issue of sub-regional issues categorising them as -– power and water and connectivity and transportation involving Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Bhutan,” he said.
27 February 2015
The bank and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Development Fund (SDF) said they would forge a multi-year partnership to design and implement the fund’s Social Enterprise Development Program (SEDP) in eight South Asian countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, and Afghanistan.
The partnership will first combine finance and capacity development support for 100 social enterprises that will receive grants of $100,000 to $250,000 each. Then SDF will provide finance to these enterprises to enable them to scale their impact, the bank said.
The SAARC Anti-blasphemy Commission presented a Strategic Action Plan, and made strong recommendations to build a cross-ethnic and interfaith consensus on the subject-matter.
Dr. Bareera N.B., on behalf of SAARC Anti-blasphemy Commission and UPC, presented the Deca-archic strategic model and plan of action to put forward the issue of blasphemy to the international legislative hierarchies including the UN.
26 February 2015
China becoming a dialogue partner of Saarc would be a strategic defeat for India. It would mean that China would be eligible for formally and officially engaging with each of the Saarc members, like India has been doing with each of the ten Asean members.
Now back to the first question: what happens to Sri Lanka, Maldives and Afghanistan if India were to take to the BBIN route within Saarc given the non-cooperation and intransigence of Pakistan?
India may well have to cobble another sub-regional framework by dealing with Afghanistan along with Iran as it deepens relations with another non-Saarc member, Myanmar. Incidentally, both Iran and Myanmar have been clamouring.
8 February 2015
India persuades the South Asian group to place a five-year moratorium on raising status of China, other non-member observer countries to dialogue partners
The eight-member Saarc currently has nine observers at Saarc summits: China, the US, Myanmar, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Mauritius and the European Union (EU). While representatives of the observer nations are allowed to sit and speak in the inaugural and concluding sessions, they are not allowed to engage in negotiations or vote on matters discussed at summits.
Dialogue partners can have much deeper economic and strategic engagement with member countries. The 10-member Asean has assigned dialogue partner status to countries such as India, China and Japan with whom it later signed free trade agreements.
4 February 2015
Realising that Pakistan’s obduracy is obstructing the progress of eight-nation South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) grouping, prime minister Narendra Modi has quietly pulled a diplomatic coup by convincing three-member countries to form a sub-regional alliance to purse an agenda of development and connectivity.
In order to make Pakistan irrelevant in the regional grouping, which has been halting several initiatives, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal have come together to form a joint working group. Though, the idea had been conceived in 2013, it got a fillip last November, when Modi participated in the 18th SAARC summit in Kathmandu. Without naming Pakistan, he spoke about pro-active measures taken by India but expressed pessimism that groping has not stood to its potential.
The sub-grouping named as BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) agreed to work out a model for power trade and inter-grid connectivity between the four countries. Officials at the ministry of external affairs said the representatives of these nations also agreed to exchange lists of potential future hydropower/power projects to be undertaken jointly on equitable basis.
3 February 2015
Even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi had proposed a SAARC Development Bank last year to fund the infrastructure needs of the region and save the developing economies from paying high borrowing costs, the NDA government has now reportedly junked the idea because the institution is unviable and will not be able to compete in size with other big multi-lateral financial institutions for financing infrastructure projects in developing countries.
2 February 2015
At the 19th Saarc summit in Kathmandu in November last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi put forth an alternative proposal for a special purpose vehicle for the South Asian region which the government is now working on, the official added on condition of anonymity. “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,” Modi had said at the summit of Saarc, which established a South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta) in 2006 with the aim of forming an economic union.
29 January 2015
Though the recent addition to the infrastructure in Lagankhel has transformed the area with tidy footpaths, vendors who used to operate small shops in the same areas have had to pay a heavy price. These vendors who survive on daily wages were swept out of these pavements and the government still fails to provide them with alternatives.
Laxmi Rai from Udaypur is one of those vendors removed from her pavement-operated business as a part of the Lalitpur Sub-Metropolitan City’s campaign ahead of the 18th Saarc Summit last year. A single mother of two, Rai said her entire family was dependent on her footpath shop.
Around 200-300 street stalls and footpath shops in Lagankhel were removed, as the LSMC cited these vendors were creating inconvenience to the pedestrians and the vehicles.
The sub-metropolis replicated the Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s campaign in which around 10,000 street businesses were evicted from the streets.
19 January 2015
An forceful plea for an urgent need to safeguard interests of hill communities was made at the lawmakers’ session with parliamentarians from SAARC countries and forest ministers of the Indian hill states on the second day of the National Symposium on Transforming Mountain Forests held at the FRI here today.
The overall tone of the session focused towards amplifying the voices of local communities and their connection with natural resources to creating conditions for lawmakers to press the ‘urgency clause’ for developing appropriate laws.
17 January 2015
Pakistan and all other countries in South Asia need India first as a supplier of relatively cheaper goods and services and second as a biggest consumer in the region given its huge market size and population.
Countries like Nepal and Bhutan are heavily dependent on India as a trading partner. India receives almost 58 percent of Nepalese exports and 51 percent of the Nepalese imports come from India. Similarly, almost 59 percent of Bhutanese exports go to India and the latter accounts for a whopping 75 percent of Bhutanese imports. Pakistan’s trade with Bhutan and Nepal is either minimal or zero and even if it intends to trade with them, it needs Indian territory to reach these countries, as both are landlocked.
An alarming fact for Pakistan out of this regional aloofness is an already existing sub-regional bloc within South Asia named SASEC (South Asia Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation) of which Pakistan and Afghanistan are not members but all other countries of SAARC are. Since its inception in 2001, SASEC countries have implemented 33 regional projects worth more than $6 billion in the energy, transport, trade facilitation, and information and communications technology sectors.
6 January 2015
A body of Indian fishermen has approached the Centre as well as neighbouring countries urging them to form an organization along the lines of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation).
The National Association of Fishermen (NAF) has handed letters to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj as well as various embassies, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Bangladesh. “There is a need to institute an independent body to look into issues that traditional fishermen face mid-sea, and our people must find representation on it. Several disputes tend to crop up when fishermen stray into each other’s waters. The recent incident where five fishermen were sentenced to death in Sri Lanka before being released is a classic example,” said Dr G K Bhanji, chairman, NAF.
2 January 2015
Bangladesh’s founder Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had floated the idea of regional cooperation for peace and stability in South Asia, which later evolved into the SAARC, says the foreign minister. Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali said this while addressing a programme in the city. He said Bangabandhu first conceptualised the idea of SAARC, and ‘This is the reality’. AH Mahmood Ali cited a speech Bangabandhu had delivered on February 6, 1972, in Calcutta (now Kolkata) at a banquet reception the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi hosted in his honour.
The minister’s comment comes at a time when BNP Vice Chairman Tarique Rahman has triggered a political controversy with his comments about Bangabandhu. Tarique, also the eldest son of Late President Ziaur Rahman, claimed that ‘Sheikh Mujib was not the first president of Bangladesh and his father Ziaur Rahman, the founder of BNP, was the country’s first president. The BNP also claims that Ziaur Rahman was the proponent of SAARC, according to a news agency.
1 January 2015
Multan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) President Mian Iqbal Hassan has suggested that the SAARC forum was again providing the chance for our leaders to resolve major regional issues. Otherwise no one can stop the nuclear war on water issues between Pakistan and India.
From the MEA Website
In Focus article – India and Mauritius: Oceanic Partners (March 10, 2015)
In Focus article – From Looking East to Acting East, January 29, 2015
India-Nepal, 25-27 November 2014
180th Anniversary of arrival of Indian indentured labour in Mauritius (24 October 2014)
Under Previous UPA government, but including it here for reference-