Nepal’s political uncertainty casts shadow on Saarc Summit

July 4th, 2008 - 9:35 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, July 4 (IANS) The political instability in Nepal that has prevented a decision on the next prime minister of the country, has cast a shadow over the forthcoming Saarc Summit scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka Aug 2-3. The Saarc charter categorically states that unless heads of governments of all the member countries are present, the summit will not be held.

“We are going ahead with all the arrangements and hoping that the political uncertainty in Nepal will be resolved by the time of the summit,” a senior Sri Lankan government official in Delhi told IANS Friday.

For Nepal’s Maoists, the Saarc Summit in Colombo would have been the ideal opportunity to start their first major interaction with the outside world.

But so far they have not been able to come to an understanding with the other political parties on choosing the country’s next prime minister.

Sri Lankan Foreign Affairs Minister Rohitha Bogollagama Wednesday handed over the invitation from the island nation’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa to attend the 15th Saarc Summit to Nepali Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala though the latter had tendered his resignation last month.

The Sri Lankans maintain, “As far as we are concerned Girija Prasad Koirala is still the prime minister of Nepal.”

Almost three months after the election that saw the Maoists emerge as the largest party, the former rebels have not yet been able to stake claim to the government.

Maoist supremo Prachanda’s intention to step into Koirala’s shoes has been blocked due to the current uproar in the interim parliament, paralysed since last week.

If the political differences between the Maoists and other political parties continue, it may be difficult for Nepal to agree on the leader who would represent the country as the head of the government at the summit.

Saarc Summits have traditionally provided the ideal opportunity for leaders of the region to meet collectively, as well as bilaterally, on the sidelines of the meet to iron out some of the tricky problems in their relationship.

For Prime Minister Manmohan Singh it would have been an ideal opportunity to meet his Pakistani counterpart, Yousaf Raza Gilani for the first time, as well as some of the other leaders of the region with whom he is already familiar.

It may also have provided the opportunity for him to meet Prachanda, if he manages to get the support of all other parties and get himself elected as the new prime minister of Nepal.

Saarc, comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, was formed in 1985 to strengthen regional cooperation among the seven south Asian neighbours. It has now grown to eight members with the inclusion of Afghanistan last year.

The summit was meant to be an annual event but in the past 23 years it has been held only 14 times as political developments in the region and in individual countries have at times prevented a meeting of all the leaders.

The Sri Lankan official recalled that in 1990, when V.P. Singh had resigned as India’s prime minister on the eve of the Saarc Summit in Male, the preparations were held back for a short while because it was not clear whether New Delhi will be able to participate in the meet.

“But within 36 hours Chandrashekhar stepped in to replace V.P. Singh as the new Indian prime minister and the summit could be held,” the official said. “Hopefully, the political parties in Nepal will be able to sort out their differences shortly and choose a prime minister,” he added.

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