Modi cites quake, renews Saarc call to Pak

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today took a fresh stab at convincing Pakistan to join pan-South Asia initiatives he has pitched, citing disasters like the Nepal earthquake as instances where the region could pool in resources and expertise.

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 1.05.15
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A child is carried by a Nepalese soldier after being rescued from a village cut off by road near Chautara on Thursday. In the rubble-strewn hilltop town, the round-the-clock rescue effort by the military is helping to recast the image of a force once criticised for rights abuses.(Reuters)

New Delhi, April 30: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today took a fresh stab at convincing Pakistan to join pan-South Asia initiatives he has pitched, citing disasters like the Nepal earthquake as instances where the region could pool in resources and expertise.

Modi's latest attempt, in a telephone conversation with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, comes at a time India, Pakistan and China are flooding Nepal with relief material in what some have described as a silent aid diplomacy tussle.

"I suggested to PM Sharif that Saarc nations conduct regular joint exercises on disaster relief and rescue," Modi tweeted this morning after Sharif had called him.

"Saarc nations can come together and hold annual exercises of rescue teams, doctors etc on how we can minimise damage during natural disasters."

Modi had identified the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) as a key vehicle for leveraging India's leadership in its immediate neighbourhood - a plan reflected in his invite to the region's leaders to his swearing-in.

But Pakistan blocked key proposals at the Saarc summit last November in Kathmandu, including a South Asian motor vehicles agreement that would have allowed trucks and cars to travel across the nations, boosting trade and tourism.

In particular, the motor vehicles pact would have allowed Indian and Afghan trucks to enter each other's territories, currently not possible because of Pakistan's opposition.

Modi, though, appears not to have given up on Saarc. Last month, he sent foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to Islamabad - and other Saarc capitals - to try and revive interest in some of his proposals, such as a South Asian satellite.

Today, Sharif prodded Modi to restart official foreign secretary talks that India had called off last August after Pakistani high commissioner Abdul Basit met Kashmiri separatist leaders. Modi was non-committal, Indian officials said.

But Sharif also appeared willing to take Modi up on his proposal for joint disaster management exercises.

"The Prime Minister (Sharif) reiterated what he had said during last year's floods on both sides of the LoC that natural disasters of this nature highlight the importance of a joint regional approach for their effective management," a statement issued by Pakistan's foreign ministry said.

For Nepal, the recipient of aid from over a dozen countries, balancing out gratitude between donors has increasingly emerged a challenge. Nepal's foreign minister Mahendra Pandey has thanked India, China and Pakistan but the country's government has found itself asked repeatedly who Kathmandu wanted to thank most.

India's foreign office has tried to underscore how the country has evacuated not just 9,000 Indians but close to 200 foreigners from 15 countries in its Nepal rescue efforts.

China today ruled out any competitive aid diplomacy and said it was "willing to keep in touch and step up cooperation with India" in assisting Nepal.

"The international rescue efforts exemplify that Asian countries are in a community of common destiny," foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said.