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Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, who is currently participating in the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, held separate bilateral meetings with the Presidents of Sri Lanka and Maldives, Prime Ministers of Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan on the sidelines of the Summit. The Prime Minister also held a warm and cordial exchange with President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan at the Retreat.

In the meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, the two leaders noted with satisfaction the cordiality and warmth that existed in the bilateral relations and coordination at the international forums. While thanking the Prime Minister for Pakistan’s steadfast support to Sri Lanka in various areas of cooperation, President Rajapaksa expressed keenness to deepen trade and commerce relations and joint ventures in defence manufacturing. Joint research on Buddhist heritage in Pakistan and tourism were also identified as potentially rich for cooperation. The Prime Minister welcomed the Sri Lankan private airline’s flights to Pakistan, which started this month. President Rajapaksa expressed desire to undertake a visit to Pakistan, which was earlier postponed. The Prime Minister warmly welcomed the visit. They undertook to expeditiously finalize agreements in the pipeline to enable their signing during the Sri Lankan President’s visit.

During the meeting with President of Maldives, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, the two leaders agreed to institutionalize economic interaction to increase trade and commerce to commensurate with the political goodwill between the two countries. President Yameen thanked the Prime Minister for Pakistan’s assistance program that has been greatly benefitting Maldives for decades. He expressed Maldives’ particular interest in expanding cooperation in the medical field. The two leaders also agreed to a trilateral sub-regional cooperative arrangement for their mutual benefit. The President said that he intended to reschedule his visit to Pakistan, which was previously postponed. The Prime Minister said his visit would be keenly awaited. Maldives’ President also invited the Prime Minister to his country’s 50th anniversary celebrations on 26th July 2015.

The Prime Minister thanked the Host Rt. Hon. Sushil Koirala, his Nepalese Counterpart, for holding the Summit successfully and the warm hospitality received during his stay in Nepal. Mr. Koirala expressed gratitude for Pakistan’s strong and consistent assistance to Nepal. He said that Nepal has emotional and spiritual attachment with Pakistan. While expressing satisfaction over bilateral cooperation in various fields, he desired upgrading of economic relations, which were far below their true potential. He also expressed desire to broaden bilateral cooperation with Pakistan. They agreed to hold the 7th Session of the Joint Economic Commission soon. The 6th session was held in August 2013. Both countries have accorded MFN to each other. Pakistan frequently organizes ‘single country exhibitions’ in Nepal. The Prime Minister while committing to furthering bilateral relations with Nepal, assured him of Pakistan’s full cooperation during its Chairmanship of the SAARC, in achieving the organization’s goals. He invited the Prime Minister of Nepal to pay a bilateral visit to Pakistan, which Mr. Koirala happily accepted.

At the courtesy meeting with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, the two Prime Ministers reviewed bilateral relations, briefed each other on internal political developments in their respective countries,while agreeing to a forward looking relationship with each other. Recognizing the need for enhancing people-to-people contacts, both agreed that the two sides could learn from each other’s expertise in various sectors, particularly, in the field of energy.

The Bhutanese Prime Minister highly admired the well preserved Buddhist heritage sites in Pakistan, particularly, in Swat, the birth place of their Guru Padma Sambhava, called the Second Buddha. He fondly recalled ‘Fasting Buddha’s Exhibition’ in Bhutan, which had attracted millions of Buddhists. He expressed keenness to send Buddhists for religious tourism to Pakistan. While welcoming the initiative, the Prime Minister offered increased number of scholarships and greater technical assistance.

Technical assistance is offered to the SAARC Member States under Pakistan Technical Assistance Program (PTAP). A sizeable number of students, civil servants and military officers avail themselves of scholarships and training facilities in Pakistan. These exchanges help develop understanding and cultural cohesiveness at the official and people’s level.

A common point emphasized by the Prime Minister in his bilateral meetings was that the SAARC processes needed political commitment and fresh impetus to make it a viable organization. He stated that strengthening of bilateral cooperation would also contribute towards attainment of its goals.

During the concluding session of the Summit in afternoon today, the Prime Minister formally announced that Pakistan would be honoured to host the next Summit in Islamabad. Exact dates would be finalized through diplomatic channels. The offer was welcomed unanimously by all the SAARC Member States. As the next host of the Summit, the Prime Minister presented a Vote of Thanks on behalf of all the SAARC Leaders.

Signing of the SAARC Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation and adoption of Declaration document were the significant milestones of the 18th SAARC Summit.

27 November, 2014

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