Transport ministers of all eight Saarc countries will meet in New Delhi next week to build consensus on an aviation policy providing direct flight links to all capitals and a regional motor vehicle agreement which could enable barrier-free movement of people and freight.
The two-day conference will begin on Monday which will involve transport secretaries of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh , Sri Lanka, Bhutan , Nepal, Maldives and India. The transport ministers would meet the next day.
India does not have a direct flight link to Islamabad and Male. According to sources, India will raise the issue with Pakistan and Maldives to have state carriers introduce at least two flights every week.
Another major issue would be finalisation of a regional motor vehicle agreement. India’s ministry of road transport and highways was entrusted with the task of preparing an arrangement similar to European Union.
The idea is to facilitate movement between neighbouring countries and to create dedicated transport corridors in the region. Each nation would identify specific entry points for movement of passengers and goods and sort out protocol, security and customs related issues in line with the agreement.
A consensus on the agreement has been elusive since mid-2007. While Nepal has pointed out that if countries want they can enter into bilateral agreement, Pakistan has been absolutely non-committal. In the last meeting in Kathmandu, Pakistan had even refused to allow a discussion on the agreement. Pakistan had said that a Reserve Bank of India directive had banned any Pakistani national from opening an account in any government bank. There was an ugly exchange between India and Pakistan delegation.
Apart from the draft agreement, there a number of rail and road corridors will be on the agenda. Sri Lanka has been pushing for a rail link between Colombo and Chennai.
There are obvious security concerns especially after intelligence agencies have pointed out that terrorists have travelled on Samjhauta Express from Pakistan to conduct recce of probable targets in India.