South Asian leaders meet at retreat in late effort to reach agreement

KATMANDU, Nepal – South Asian leaders flew to a mountain resort near Nepal’s capital Thursday for a last effort to reach agreements on roads, railways and energy, and for a much-anticipated meeting between Pakistan and Indian leaders.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, will likely come face to face at the retreat, but it is not clear if they will do more than exchange courtesies.

“If they interact, exchange courtesies and exchange a few words, that does not translate as dialogue,” Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said.

The leaders boarded helicopters from Kathmandu for a flight to Dhulikhel 30 kilometres (19 miles) away. The area is a popular viewing spot of the Himalayan mountains to the north.

It is the final day of a two-day summit for leaders from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the short trip gives them a final change to reach agreements that were expected to be signed during the meeting.

Officials have indicated that Pakistan made last-minute objections to the three agreements because of incomplete internal procedures.

Akbaruddin said the other nations were disappointed and would likely bring up the issue at the retreat.

Unless there is a consensus at the retreat, the summit would end without any significant agreements being signed.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit, the first since 2011, is meant as a forum to discuss regional issues, but is usually dominated by the rivalry between Pakistan and India. It is supposed to be held annually, but is often shelved due to member nations disagreeing on meeting dates.

In his opening remarks Wednesday, Modi noted that it was the anniversary of the 2008 attacks on the Indian financial capital of Mumbai, in which Pakistani gunmen killed 166 people over four days. Relations between India the two were frozen after the attacks, and not much progress has been made since then.

Sharif’s presence at Modi’s swearing-in ceremony as prime minister after winning Indian general elections in May had raised hopes that the neighbours would revive peace talks. But the hopes were dashed when India called off official-level talks in August, upset that Pakistan’s envoy to India had held discussions with Kashmiri separatists.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir. Both countries control parts of the Himalayan region but claim it in its entirety.


Associated Press writer Nirmala George in New Delhi contributed to this report.