India pledges to walk extra mile for Saarc integration

India pledges to walk extra mile for Saarc integration

India has pledged to walk the extra mile to deepen economic integration in south Asia, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi indicating New Delhi’s determination to work with other neighbours for shared prosperity in the region, even if Islamabad continues to play spoilsport.

Speaking at the 18th Saarc summit here, Modi on Wednesday promised that his government would ensure that India’s facilities at its border would not slow down, but speed up trade with its neighbours. Modi pledged that New Delhi would make it easier for business people from Saarc nations to travel to India by issuing them visas with validity for 3-5 years.

He also added that India could even work with others to introduce Saarc Business Traveller Cards for hassle-free travels for the business community within the region. A system for immediate issuance of medical visas to patients from south Asian nations and their attendants to seek treatment in any hospital in India would also be put in place.

Modi promised that India would gift its partners in the eight nation bloc a Saarc satellite that would be launched by 2016.  The prime minister acknowledged that India had a huge surplus in its favour in trade with other Saarc countries. “I believe that this (trade surplus) is neither right nor sustainable. We will address your concerns and give you a level playing field in India. But I encourage you to attract Indian investments to produce for the Indian market and create jobs for your youth,” the prime minister said in the inaugural session of the Saarc summit here.

Though the Saarc leaders were expected to sign three agreements – two for facilitating trans-border rail and road connectivity and another for grid-interconnection for supply of electricity within the region – uncertainty now looms large over the fate of the proposed deals, particularly due to lukewarm response from Pakistan.

“There is a new awakening in south Asia, a new recognition of inter-linked destinies and a new belief in shared opportunities. The bonds will grow, through Saarc or outside, among all of us or some of us,” Modi said, sending out a tacit message to his Pakistani counterpart M Nawaz Sharif. 

Noting that the Saarc had not achieved much success in pursuing the goal of regional economic integration over the past three decades, Modi questioned if it was because the south Asian nations were “stuck behind the walls of their differences and hesitant to move out of the shadows of the past”.

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