Ahead of Pakistani investigators’ arrival in India on March 27 to help probe recent militant attacks on Pathankot air base, the two South Asian neighbours have made a ‘compromise’ to host new SAARC Disaster Centre.
During their meeting on the sidelines of three-day SAARC Ministerial Meeting in the Nepalese city of Pokhara (on March 16-18), Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz agreed that although the new SAARC centre would be based in India, the existing centre in Pakistan would be expanded. Speaking at a joint press conference with Swaraj, Aziz said that the existing centre in Pakistan would be expanded mainly to look after the environment.
Earlier, the Council of SAARC Ministers urged the two regional rivals to make a final decision on the Centre through negotiations. Soon after Swaraj and Aziz attended the joint press conference, other SAARC leaders congratulated them for making the compromise. “This decision is subject to endorsement by the SAARC Heads of State/Government at the next SAARC Summit in Islamabad in November,” said diplomatic sources. The Nepalese government said in a statement that it was important for both New Delhi and Islamabad to co-operate with each other, as the Environment and Disaster Management Centre was set up for looking into the environment and disaster-related issues in South Asia.
Meanwhile, the Indian minister told the 37th SAARC Ministerial Meeting that New Delhi was confident of member countries’ support for the SAARC Centre in her country. She also expressed hope that the centre would certainly benefit from domain expertise of a large network of specialised Indian institutions experienced in quick response to various natural disasters. Swaraj further congratulated Pakistan for showing interest in hosting the SAARC Centre, stressing that (otherwise) it was not possible to hold the SAARC meeting in a very “co-operative” environment.
Before leaving Pokhara for New Delhi on March 18, Swaraj told the Nepalese media that India was ready to welcome the Pakistani Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on March 27. “It’s not possible that I and Pakistani foreign affairs adviser meet and the Pathankot issue is not taken up. Yes, it was discussed,” she said.
While Pathankot investigations were high on India’s priority list, Pakistan was eager to ensure that Prime Modi attends the SAARC Summit in Islamabad. Swaraj, who accepted Pakistan’s invitation for Prime Minister Modi to visit Islamabad for the SAARC Summit on November 9-10, stressed that “collective strength” of SAARC would help the bloc form a South Asian Economic Union in the coming years.