The Telegraph
Wednesday , March 23 , 2016

Jolt to Saarc satellite

New Delhi, March 22: Pakistan has pulled out of one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet projects for the region - an Indian-built satellite dedicated to all Saarc nations - forcing New Delhi to change the initiative's name.

The "Saarc satellite" will now be known as "South Asian satellite", the foreign ministry said today. "Pakistan has withdrawn from the Saarc satellite initiative," foreign office spokesperson Vikas Swarup said. "That's why the initiative will now be known as South Asian satellite."

Saarc - consisting of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Maldives and Sri Lanka - takes all decisions only by consensus. That need for consensus, embedded in the grouping's charter, has often been blamed for Saarc's failure to follow through on projects most members agree on - because of bilateral distrust between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan's refusal to join the initiative represents the latest manifestation of that distrust. But equally, India's reluctance to give up on the project, and its decision to press ahead with other Saarc members - albeit with a different name - captures a strategy the Modi government has adopted with the grouping.

Like the Saarc satellite, a motor vehicles act allowing trucks and cars to travel freely across the grouping's members remains stuck because of Pakistan's opposition. But faced with the roadblock, India lobbied three of its other land neighbours to put together a sub-regional motor vehicles act - a Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal (BBIN) agreement.

Modi had proposed the Saarc satellite in November 2014 at the last Saarc summit, held in Kathmandu. The satellite is aimed at helping the nations map their forest cover, better predict weather phenomena and assist their farmers.

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