11/07/2014, 00.00
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Regional forum in Nepal could just become a "religious showcase" for political leaders

by Christopher Sharma
Kathmandu is preparing to host the 18th Meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Regional heads of state and government confirmed their presence, but their schedules focus on visiting religious holy sites. Experts are worried that this will devalue the summit.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - The 18th Meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) on 26-27 November in Kathmandu is in danger of becoming just a "religious showcase" for heads of state and government when they visit Nepal, local experts and politicians warn after the release of the agendas of the various leaders.

Designed as a forum to discuss development plans, especially for the poorest nations of the area, the meeting is also expected to address the threat of terrorism, regional migration, energy and transnational transport.

Nepal is hosting the summit for the third time, but this is the first summit since it became a secular state. However, various leaders have already announced their schedules, which might jeopardise the event.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to visit the "cradle" of Buddhism, the Ram-Janaki temple in Lumbini, as well as the Muktinath temple, which is shared by both Hindus and Buddhists, located in a northern district of the country.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a visit to the mosque in Kathmandu and a flight over the mountains of Nepal.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is set to visit the Buddhanath stupa and Buddhist monastery.

"This way, SAARC will not be able to make many decisions," said Lokraj Baral, former Nepali ambassador to India. "If the leaders do not focus on regional problems and prefer to visit places of worship, they cannot do much."

"Let us hope the meeting will focus on the problems of the area. We expect participants to take issues seriously," said Jayaraj Acharya, Nepal's ambassador to the United States.

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