ISLAMABAD - Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz met Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed Thursday on the sidelines of the SAARC Council of Ministers meeting in Maldives.

The meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere and both the ministers reviewed the progress made towards normalising bilateral relations since the meeting of the two prime ministers in New York last September.

They also agreed to continue in their efforts towards improvement of relations and also address each other’s concerns in a constructive manner. They expressed satisfaction over the scheduling of meetings, at the technical level for cooperation in the power sectors and over the recent incident regarding cross-LoC trade and travel CBMs.

Sartaj Aziz led the Pakistan’s delegation at the 35th Session of SAARC Council of Ministers (COM) meeting in Maldives.

At the meeting SAARC foreign ministers took stock of SAARC activities over the past two years. Amongst other issues, focus of discussions was on streamlining and rationalising the SAARC process based on the study conducted by the SAARC Secretariat as well as the role, status and engagement of observer states in SAARC programme and activities.

In his statement, the advisor stressed the need to make SAARC more effective, dynamic and focused on priority areas that affect the entire region. For this, it was important to develop stronger economic linkages through South Asian Free Trade Agreement, SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services, regional connectivity and develop programmes for the social uplift of people. These should include poverty alleviation, environment and climate change, food security and energy programmes.  Cooperation in the field of energy is pivotal to the economic development and integration of the region and it was necessary to push forward with programmes in this sphere.

The advisor also highlighted the importance of active participation by all SAARC member states in its activities and the added benefit of involving observer states as dialogue partners. This would not only raise SAARC’s global profile but also enrich the region with diverse and varied experiences and best practices.

Earlier, during the meeting of Standing Committee, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry emphasised the need to rationalise and prioritise SAARC activities.

Appreciating the work of secretariat for an incisive study on strengthening SAARC mechanisms, the foreign secretary supported majority of the recommendations, which he believed would be useful in making the organisation more effective and vibrant. The Standing Committee mandated the programming committee to further deliberate on the study as well as on the role of observers in preparation for final decision at the next SAARC Summit.

The COM provided an opportunity to the adviser to meet with other SAARC leaders for an exchange of views on issues of mutual interest. During his meeting with the host foreign ministers, the advisor extended an invitation on behalf of the prime minister to the recently elected President of Maldives to visit Pakistan at a mutually acceptable date.