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India to further cement ties with neighbours during SAARC meet

Last updated on: November 09, 2011 09:03 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will reach Maldives on November 9 to attend the 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit to be held on November 10 and 11, in the scenic Addu island.

During the four-day visit Dr Singh is likely to engage in several bilateral meetings and address the People's Majlis, the Parliament of the Maldives, labelled a historic event by political observers.

All eyes will be on the bilateral meetings between India and Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal (not necessarily in that order) as a string of developments in recent months signal a thawing of relations between India and her three immediate neighbours.

Dr Singh will lead the Indian delegation that includes external affairs minister S M Krishna, National Security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon, and foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai.

In recent times, the strained relations between the two nuclear-powered South Asian neighbours -- India and Pakistan -- seems to have eased beginning with India's cooperation with Pakistan to secure a non-permanent seat in the United Nations' Security Council.

A few days later, Pakistan reciprocated by releasing the Indian Army's helicopter that had inadvertently strayed into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The atmosphere of rancour and aggression that had set in after the terror strikes in Mumbai in November 2008 seems to be giving way to cordial relations after Pakistan recently committed itself to granting the most favoured nation status to India as mandated by the World Trade Organisation treaty to which both India and Pakistan are signatories. 

While there have been conflicting reports on how the MFN status will further help normalise trade relations between the two SAARC countries, some clarity is likely to emerge by the time the 17th SAARC Summit concludes on November 11.

Earlier, Dr Singh's two-day Bangladesh visit that began on November 6, after a hiatus of 12 years when Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Dhaka in 1999, was also hailed by both the sides as historic.

India and Bangladesh not only managed to settle their niggling border dispute but also cemented bilateral trade relations that is likely to see more textiles imports from Bangladesh into India. 

The sharing of Teesta waters though remains a bone of contention between India and its eastern neighbour. 

Interestingly, Nepal's newly-appointed Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, who was on his first official visit to India, returned to Nepal gung ho. Among the two most important agreements that he signed was the one on Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, which is likely to encourage Indian industries to increase investments in the Himalayan nation and the other was the opening of a line of credit of US $ 250 million to Nepal, a kind of a soft loan to be repaid over the next 20 years at a concessional rate of 1.75 per cent. 

With relations improving between India and her three immediate neighbours to its west, east and north India will be looking forward to further strengthen the cordiality during the 17th SAARC Summit at Maldives's Addu atoll in the southern hemisphere.

This is the third occasion that Maldives will host the SAARC summit, the previous two being held in 1990 and 1997. 

The theme of the 17th SAARC Summit -- Building Bridges -- emphasises the fact that the eight-member body -- India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Afghanistan (joined SAARC in 2007) -- will strive not only to span the physical distances but also strengthen political and trade relations amongst member nations.

Prasanna D Zore