US hails SAARC push for better connectivity with Afghanistan

US hails SAARC push for better connectivity with AfghanistanKATHMANDU: Amid the push by SAARC nations to improve connectivity, the US has said better transport linkages with Afghanistan will help bring economic prosperity to the war-ravaged country and the region as a whole.

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal, who attended the 18th SAARC Summit, said all the leaders of the regional bloc expressed strong determination to improve economic growth in the region which was encouraging and offered to provide required assistance in realizing its goal.

The US is among the 10 observers in SAARC.

“This has been a very successful SAARC summit. There was tremendous hope and determination to create the kind of connectivity that will bring this whole region into greater prosperity,” Biswal said.

“So the statements of all of the heads of states were focused on that and we very much support that and hope that we can play a role in trying to bring that about,” Biswal, who represented the US at the summit, told PTI.

Biswal also referred to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s call for linking Afghanistan with rest of the region and said improving connectivity to the country will ensure its economic prosperity to a great extent.

“We are very supportive of the transition in Afghanistan.

We want to see stability, security and economic prosperity and the economic connectivity that everyone is focused on is a key aspect of trying to bring that about and in ensuring that Afghanistan, which President Ghani said sits at the heart of Asia, can play a role in connecting all of these various parts of Asia,” Biswal said.

“And in that I think we will see a better future for the entire region,” she said.

Asked about India’s role in Afghanistan, Biswal said, “India has played a very important role and has provided a tremendous amount of economic assistance and I think India is continuing a very important role in Afghanistan’s development.”

India has invested USD two billion in aid and reconstruction and has been involved in various transport projects. At the SAARC Summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a number of SAARC leaders had strongly pitched for improving transport linkages in the region but two key pacts on connectivity, including a motor vehicle pact, aimed at better people-to-people contact and easy movement of goods could not be signed due to stiff opposition from Pakistan.

The SAARC works by consensus and Pakistan’s stalling of the two pacts had left all other member countries deeply disappointed.

Asked to comment on views by some member countries that SAARC should be expanded for an increased role for observers like China, Biswal said it was up to the leaders of the grouping to take a decision on the issue.

“Those are questions that SAARC member states have to grapple with in terms of what is the appropriate size and membership of the entity,” she said.

A number of SAARC countries, including Pakistan and Nepal, have been favoring membership for China but India has been maintaining that before expanding the group, cooperation among the existing member nations must be enhanced.

Yesterday, the SAARC leaders decided to involve the observers in “productive and demand-driven” projects in priority areas.

Besides China and the US, other observers of SAARC are Australia, Japan, Myanmar, Iran, South Korea, the European Union and Mauritius.–PTI

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