Basking in limelight last year when it held its first general elections, followed by the crowning of a new king, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan will grab world attention once again in April when it hosts the 16th SAARC Summit.
It will be a triumphant first for Thimphu that in the past had to pass on the opportunity due to lack of infrastructure.
The SAARC Secretariat in Kathmandu has begun consultations with the seen other member states, including the newly inducted Afghanistan, to finalise the dates mooted by the Bhutan government. Bhutanese Prime Minister L J Y Thinley has proposed April 28-29, which would have to be confirmed by India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Afghanistan and Nepal.
Though initially it was Maldives’ turn to host the 16th summit, the SAARC Council of Foreign Ministers, who met in Colombo in February, agreed to Bhutan’s request. The two-day summit will resurrect fresh outside world interest in the isolated Buddhist country and boost tourism. It would be the first time the summit is being held in Thimphu since the creation of SAARC in 1985.
However, the regional bloc and Nepal’s caretaker Maoist government seem to be at odds, by a quirk of fate. When the 15th summit was held in Colombo in August 2008, Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who took oath of office as Nepal’s first Maoist premier the same month, was unable to attend due to the delay in the formation of his government. Subsequently, caretaker premier Girija Prasad Koirala went to Colombo.
Next year too, Prachanda is unlikely to attend the Thimphu summit. Having resigned over a row about the sacking of the army chief, his caretaker government is now being asked to make way for a new coalition led by his former allies, the communists. Madhav Kumar Nepal, former chief of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, has been able to win the support of 23 of the 25 parliamentary parties and is poised to step into Prachanda’s shoes as soon as the former guerrillas lift their siege of parliament. It is therefore likely that Nepal will represent Nepal at the regional meet.
However, the communist leader faces a tough hurdle with the Maoists seeking their pound of flesh before they yield. They are now demanding that the house admit a debate on the constitutional propriety of the President, Dr Ram Baran Yadav, reinstating the army chief they had sacked. They are also demanding a vote, hoping to be revenged on the president and have him removed though they failed with the chief of Nepal Army, Gen Rookmangud Katawal.
There is growing concern at the prolonged stalemate in Nepal. Even on Tuesday, the envoys of EU countries and the US met Prachanda to urge him not to create a political vacuum but to cooperate with the other parties.
In February 2005, after Nepal's King Gyanendra staged a bloodless coup, the SAARC Summit scheduled to be held in Bangladesh had to be called off after India pulled out, citing the instability in Nepal and the security situation in Dhaka.