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South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation to convene


South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation to convene

Photo: Reuters/ Narendra Shrestha

The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan will today attend a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) virtual meeting chaired by Nepali Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Kumar Gyawali.

All eight SAARC members—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka—will attend the meeting. Although cooperation between SAARC member-states was limited before the COVID-19 pandemic, its members have joined forces to kick-start regional economic recovery through initiatives including the India-led SAARC COVID-19 Emergency Fund.

India-Pakistan disputes remain an existential threat to the SAARC, which had to call off a 2016 summit scheduled to be hosted in Islamabad after India and three other states refused to attend. Last week’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting saw tensions further escalate when India virtually departed in protest of a map used by Pakistan claiming disputed territory.

Nevertheless, expect India to provide approximately 30% of SAARC Secretariat operating costs to push towards the region’s goal of an integrated South Asian Economic Union and skirt away from territorial disputes. In the short term, states are likely to discuss implementation and distribution of the Emergency Fund, which has stalled in large-scale execution due to India-Pakistan bickering, yet has already served as a vital emergency relief mechanism for smaller relief donations.

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