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SAARC Summit: Pak blocks 3 major projects by India; Modi, Sharif avoid meeting

KATHMANDU: Pakistan on Wednesday played spoilsport by blocking three major SAARC connectivity projects initiated by India, even as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conspicuously avoided meeting his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif while he met five other South Asian leaders here.

The 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit appeared to become a non-starter with agreement on the three projects - an electricity grid and trade in electricity, and road and rail connectivity - stalled by Pakistan on the premise that it still had to conclude its “internal processes” on it.

While Modi, who gave a forceful maiden speech at the summit on the need for seamless connectivity, met his Bangladeshi and Bhutanese counterparts Sheikh Hasina and Tshering Tobgay, and later the presidents of Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Maldives - Ashraf Ghani, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Abdulla Yameen - Sharif was not on the list.

India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said there was “no structured meeting” planned between the two leaders as India had not received any request for such a meet from Pakistan.

However, there is speculation that the two leaders could meet Thursday during the retreat at the Dhulikhel resort. Both prime ministers are here for the two-day SAARC summit that began Wednesday.

Nepal is trying its level best to see that the summit should not go empty, and trying to get Pakistan on board for the agreements. Nepal’s Foreign Affairs Minister Khagnath Adhikari told IANS, “Our last ditch effort will be continued until Thursday. We are trying to have at least an energy related pact in the summit.”

In his address, Modi also referred to terrorism, especially in the context of the sixth anniversary of the horrific 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, in which 10 Pakistani terrorists unleashed mayhem in India's commercial capital in 2008 on this day.

“Today, as we remember the horror of the terror attack in Mumbai in 2008, we feel the endless pain of lost lives. Let us work together to fulfil the pledge we have taken to combat terrorism and trans-national crimes,” he said, without any reference to Pakistan.

India has been pressing Pakistan to go ahead with the trial of the 26/11 accused. Modi urged the South Asian nations to work together to “change cynicism to optimism” and said it was time that the member nations were not just “paas paas” (next to each other) but also “saath saath” (standing together).

He pitched for seamless connectivity in the region and proposed trade in electricity and pushed for connectivity and services by rail, road and air. He said India will now give business visa for 3-5 years for Saarc and also issue a Saarc Business Traveller Card.