Pak, Nepal PM’s deal with to precede Modi’s UNGA speech

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 25

India will keenly watch the addresses by the Prime Ministers of Nepal and Pakistan at the UN General Assembly on Friday night as it seeks to consolidate partnerships in the neighbourhood following deterioration in its bilateral ties with China.

Prime Ministers KP Sharma Oli and Imran Khan will be addressing the high level segment of the UN General Assembly a day before PM Narendra Modi delivers his speech on Saturday by video conferencing.

Oli’s address would reveal whether Nepal has been suitably mollified with the activation of the SAARC mechanism in which it is the chair.

A birthday phone call from Oli to PM Modi besides Nepal putting the map controversy on the backburner suggests a reduction in diplomatic hostilities over a strip of land with India.

Having crossed swords at every multilateral meeting, sources here do not expect Pakistan to give up its criticism of the situation in Jammu & Kashmir but Imran Khan’s speech will be too late in the night to elicit an Indian response, which will in all likelihood be wrapped in PM Modi’s speech the next day.

India, Nepal and Pakistan are caught in an interesting triangle as far as the SAARC is concerned. Nepal found itself in the regional spotlight when it chaired a meeting of the SAARC Foreign Ministers and it will find itself at the forefront as more and more of the regional organisation’s mechanisms are activated.

However, more of such meetings will propel the SAARC towards holding a summit, which by turn will be held in Pakistan. This is a possibility that India wants to avert until Pakistan stops abetting cross-border terrorism.

India with the help of Maldives managed to avert a discussion on a possible Summit during Thursday’s SAARC Foreign Ministers’ video-conference. One of the agenda items was the next Summit be hosted by Pakistan but Maldives set the pace by observing that the ongoing pandemic was not the right time to take up such a proposal.

As the SAARC, like most multilateral bodies, operates by consensus, even one objection can stall a proposal. In this case, other countries too agreed with Maldives, nixing the move for now.

Speaking at the SAARC Foreign Ministers’ meeting, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had indicated the template Pakistan needed to follow in order to be eligible for holding the SAARC summit. “Cross-border terrorism, blocking connectivity and obstructing trade are three key challenges that the SAARC must overcome,’’ he had said in his opening remarks.

Pakistan PM’s observations during his UNGA speech will likely set the tone for PM Modi’s reply the next day. But the hostile statements exchanged after the SAARC Ministerial meeting do not suggest a rapprochement with Pakistan is at hand while India is actively mending fences and financially bailing out neighbours in fiscal trouble.    

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