Hostilities between rivals India and Pakistan threatened to scupper efforts by South Asian leaders to boost trade among almost a quarter of the world’s people, throwing into doubt any prospect of a regional customs union.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars, and just last month exchanges of fire across the border in disputed Kashmir killed 20 people. The bickering spilled into a two-day regional summit in Kathmandu, and their leaders refused to meet.
Indian and Nepali officials said Pakistan declined to sign three multilateral pacts with the eight members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
The agreements aim to boost road trade and electricity sharing, including across Pakistan’s heavily militarized border with India.
Nepal’s former foreign secretary, Madhu Raman Acharya, echoed the sentiment, urging the grouping to step up “sub-regional cooperation”.
Almost all the leaders at the summit expressed dismay at Sabre’s sparse achievements since it was founded 29 years ago aiming to become a European-style union.
Despite a free trade pact since 2006, trade among South Asian nations makes up five percent of their total trade. They share few transport and power links.
China, free of the baggage that makes much of the region wary of India, has built ports and sold weapons across South Asia, where its new Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank has attracted interest, including from India.Through Pakistan, China suggested it play a larger role in the regional grouping, but India rebuffed the proposal.