Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif arrived here on Tuesday to lead Pakistan’s delegation to the 18th Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) to present Pakistan’s vision of a peaceful neighbourhood with trade and investment being its mainstay. The Prime Minister received a red carpet welcome as he alighted from his special aircraft at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport.
Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal, Bam Dev Gautam, received the Prime Minister. A contingent of the Nepalese armed forces presented a salute to the Prime Minister as national anthems of the two countries were played. The Prime Minister’s brief entourage includes Special Assistants Tariq Fatemi and Irfan Siddiqui. Begum Kalsoom Nawaz, the wife of Prime Minister, was also present. Flags of the eight participating countries adorned the building along with huge emblems of the 8th Saarc Summit.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was given a warm reception by general public as hundreds of people lined the route from airport to his hotel. The crowd waved Pakistani flags as he drove past them. His large portraits and Pakistani flags were put along roadside. The Prime Minister is in Khatmandu to share with the regional leaders his desire for a “peaceful neighbourhood” where only meaningful co-operation can come up to the expectations of 1.5 billion people living in the region. He will join other regional leaders at the City Hall – Rastriya Sabha Griha on Wednesday at the inaugural and closing ceremonies. He will be meeting Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, besides other leaders during his stay.
A senior Foreign Office official said Pakistan firmly believed that the full potential of SAARC could only be fully realised if differences, particularly the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, were resolved peacefully through a sustained dialogue process between Pakistan and India. The SAARC Charter forbids any debate on conflicts and disputes and requires amendment with unanimity. Pakistan believes that the SAARC region has the potential to become a factor for global economic growth in the 21st century, owing to its huge resources.
However, the rivalries and lack of trust among the member-states have so far impeded greater regional integration. It has limited the current trade volume amongst the eight member states to mere 3 billion dollars, far less than the region’s true potential. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s participation in the Summit reflects Pakistan’s support to the regional association’s efforts in alleviating poverty and promoting literacy in the region.
Pakistan is also a vocal supporter of strategies in the fields of agriculture, food security, climate change and co-operation in sharing indigenous sources of energy, including solar, wing, bio and hydro. The Khatmandu Summit is being attended by a number of observers from China, Japan, Australia, the United States and the European Union. The Summit has been preceded by preparatory meetings at the senior official and ministerial Level. Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry met his counterparts at the SAARC Standing Committee Meeting, which was followed by the meeting of Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to the Prime Minister of National Security and Foreign Affairs. The land-locked Nepal has a small population of 31 million, with Hinduism and Buddhism as its major religions. With a per capita income of 540 dollars, it is one of the world’s poorest countries with carpets, clothing, leather goods, jute and grain as its main exports.