KATHMANDU (Reuters) – South Asian leaders from Afghanistan to the Maldives met in Kathmandu on Wednesday for a summit that was undermined by traditional bickering between rivals Pakistan and India.
In Nepal, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was due to hold two-way talks with every country in the volatile region except Pakistan, as neither neighbour is ready to seek talks to reduce tension between the nuclear-armed states.
Divided when they won freedom from British colonial rule in 1947, the two countries have barely agreed on anything since, a predicament that has left the three-decade-old South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) dysfunctional.
“More often than not, India-Pakistan disputes have overshadowed the organisation,” Nepal’s former prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai, wrote in the Republica newspaper. “It is now time for India to take the lead.”
“My vision for our region is a dispute-free South Asia, where, instead of fighting each other, we jointly fight poverty,” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said.
But hopes for a meeting between Modi and Sharif to restart the peace process faded after Sharif told reporters on his plane that “the ball is now in India’s court”.
India says Pakistan needs to commit to “meaningful dialogue” before they can meet at the summit, which opened on the anniversary of 2008 attacks by Pakistani militants on Mumbai that killed 166 people.