New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lay out his vision for regional cooperation in South Asia and India's approach to harnessing the developmental potential of the region as a whole during the upcoming 18th SAARC Summit in Nepal.
With the two-day Summit set to begin on November 26, the External Affairs Ministry said India was ready to engage and sign agreements should there be consensus among the SAARC countries in the areas of transport and energy, especially electricity.
Modi will be leading a power-packed delegation, including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, to Nepal on Tuesday to attend the meet.
"The visit, which is essentially for the SAARC Summit, will also have a substantial bilateral component," Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told reporters here.
India sees SAARC as a regional cooperative framework for promoting active collaboration in economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields so as to accelerate regional growth and development, he said.
Giving details of the programme schedule, the spokesperson said that the morning session on November 26 would be devoted to policy statements by all leaders following the initial inauguration of the Summit.
All heads of government will make their policy statements following which they will consider reports submitted to them by the SAARC Council of Ministers and sign any agreements that have been recommended by them.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is composed of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
"The policy statements will be in alphabetical order and Prime Minister Modi will lay out his vision of what he sees as regional cooperation in South Asia and India's approach to harnessing developmental potential of the region as a whole," he said.
The afternoon will be free for bilateral interactions. "It is our intention to hold as many bilateral interactions as possible," Akbaruddin said.
However, he remained non-committal on a meeting between Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, saying that the schedule is yet to be firmed up.
Akbaruddin said that Modi is expected to engage in
substantive discussions with the Nepalese leadership and will cover a number of areas related to development assistance, defence and security cooperation, energy, connectivity and tourism.
He stressed that the Prime Minister's second visit to Nepal in six months was reflective of India's intention to raise the level of engagement with the neighbouring country based on enhanced trust and shared will. During Modi's first visit, Akbaruddin said, both countries had broken new ground in terms of bilateral ties.
"Since then there has been progress in a number of areas which had been agreed between Prime Minister Modi and his Nepalese counterpart," he said, adding that the Upper Karnali hydro project was signed on September 9 while the power trade agreement was signed in October.
Meanwhile, explaining India's focus for the Summit, Akbaruddin said it would be on the enhancement of connectivity and people-to-people contacts.
"There are a series of recommendations for agreements that have been made. These are in the area of transport and energy, especially electricity. Of course, whether these will be signed will depend on the recommendations of the Council of Ministers and the agreement of all SAARC countries," he said.
Akbaruddin stressed that on its part, India stands ready to engage on and sign these agreements should there be consensus among the SAARC members.
The Union Cabinet had on November 20 cleared three key framework agreements with member-countries to enhance rail and road connectivity and set up a regional power grid.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between India and Nepal for strengthening cooperation in the field of tourism was also given a green signal by the Cabinet. The memorandum is proposed to be signed during Modi's visit.
Following the bilaterals in the afternoon, Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala will host a banquet for the SAARC leaders.
On November 27th, the SAARC leaders will take part in a retreat session at Dhulikhel.
In the afternoon, the leaders will again reconvene in the plenary session and will adopt the Kathmandu Declaration following which the Nepalese President will host a banquet.
After entering office as the Prime Minister, Modi has emphasised that neighbours are a major focus for him.
He would incidentally be again meeting all the South Asian leaders in Kathmandu exactly six months after his swearing-in.
All the South Asian leaders had attended Modi's swearing- in ceremony in May, except for Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who had sent in the parliamentary speaker Shirin Chaudhury to attend the event as she was on a tour to Japan.