Indian and Pakistani officials will meet to finalise the budget and agenda of the SAARC during the February 1-2 meeting in Kathmandu. The meeting will mark the beginning of the annual calendar of events of the organisation which failed to meet in Islamabad for a summit and is in focus as it is the first time high officials of member-countries will meet since the cancellation of the summit.
“Joint Secretaries in charge of SAARC affairs from member-states will hold the annual programming committee meeting in Kathmandu to finalise budget for the SAARC secretariat and the regional centres. The meeting is likely to take stock of the present agenda and development projects,” said Pavan Kumar Dubey, official at the SAARC Secretariat.
Mr. Dubey said SAARC had been performing its routine administrative and developmental tasks after members withdrew from the November 2016 summit objecting to cross-border terror from Pakistan.
The Planning Committee meeting also indicates the continuing role of Nepal as the Chair of SAARC which was to have passed on to Pakistan last November.
However, diplomats indicated that the meeting in Kathmandu will be critical as it will require consensus among members for finalising budget of the organisation. “We will have to build consensus among all members for the agenda of the organisation,” said Mani Bhattarai, Joint Secretary in charge of SAARC affairs in Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, indicating that both India and Pakistan will play a crucial role in meeting.
A senior Bhutan diplomat, however, told The Hindu that the meeting of Kathmandu would have to be followed by other meetings where more coordination among SAARC members would be needed.
“India was also expected to hold a meeting but it has declined to hold it for the time being,” said the diplomat, indicating that India-Pakistan differences continue to be a major factor in the organisation.
Following cancellation of SAARC summit in Islamabad, India has boosted support to other regional groupings like BIMSTEC and BBIN which aims to engage most of the SAARC members barring Pakistan.