At a time when there is a perceived push by some Saarc observers - particularly China - to upgrade its relationship with the regional grouping, US - another observer - has said that it is entirely upto the Saarc member states to determine their interface with observers.
Nisha Biswal, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs, told HT in an exclusive conversation that US already has a deep bilateral relationship with all Saarc members and is prepared for 'robust engagement' with the Saarc collective. "But it is really for member states to determine what they would like Saarc to be and the interface of observers with the collective." She added that US was not prepared to 'foist anything' and would respond to the needs of the region, as determined by the members. On Thursday, Saarc decided that the programming committee could list out areas in which observers could engage more deeply.
Biswal said it would have been 'very welcome' if Saarc had agreed on all three agreements - two on railways and road connectivity remain pending. But she added that it was 'inevitable' that connectivity will happen, 'whether under the ageis of Saarc or bilaterally or through sub regional arrangements' since it was in the interests of each country. Those who do not pursue it would be at the 'losing end'.
Striking an optimistic note about the return of the India US relationship to an 'ambitious trajectory', Biswal credited the turn of events in Delhi. "Having a government that has a mandate which is clear and compelling has provided an impetus for both sides." She said President Barrack Obama's visit as the chief guest of the republic day would be 'historic and momentous'.
On the absence of Modi-Sharif dialogue, Biswal said that US would welcome and encourage any overture by India and Pakistan to improve relations and there are 'benefits' if there is a frank exchange of views. "But the timing, pace, scope and character of the dialogue is fundamentally for the two countries to resolve."
The US official also hailed Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani's articulation of a strong desire to have strong relations with the region. She said US was 'very much encouraged' by his trip to Pakistan and believed that 'good relationship between the two was in both countries' interest as well as that of the region'.