With Pakistan dilly dallying over signing a motor vehicle pact that would allow free movement of vehicles among SAARC member countries, India is now set to bypass Pakistan and instead sign a similar sub regional agreement with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh to remove restrictions on vehicular movement in the subcontinent.
The move comes after Pakistan did not come on board to sign the agreement during the SAARC summit held in Kathmandu last November, on the ground that it needs more time to consult all its provinces. The SAARC agreement would have allowed free movement of vehicles of each country – cargo as well as passenger vehicles -- to ply in territory of other country through authorized operator.
Currently India only has bilateral motor vehicle agreement with Nepal and Bangladesh but a multilateral pact would go a long way in boosting trade in the region.
But now, India has decided to tap its eastern neighbours. The framework of the new agreement is likely to be finalized in a meeting of the transport secretaries of the four countries at the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) – another grouping of south Asian countries which includes India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka -- to be held in Kolkata in the first week of February. Pakistan is not part of this grouping. SASEC was set up in 2001 to bring together these six countries to promote regional prosperity and boosting trade by improving cross border connectivity.
“Because Pakistan sought more time, we could not sign the pact during the Kathmandu summit, despite the willingness of the remaining SAARC member countries that have land route. There was uncertainty about Pakistan and it was felt that there is no point delaying signing of the agreement that would strengthen regional economic cooperation. So we decided to use the SASEC platform for signing a similar agreement allowing free vehicular movement among member countries,” said a senior government official.
A meeting to flesh out the details of the SASEC motor vehicle agreement was discussed between senior officials on foreign affairs and road transport ministry officials early this week. Road transport secretary Vijay Chhibber has also written to foreign secretary Sujata Mehta on this matter.