KATMANDU, Nepal — South Asian leaders, including from rivals India and Pakistan, discussed trade and energy cooperation and regional peace on Wednesday, but did not reach a consensus on expected transportation and energy agreements.
Hopes for a meeting between the leaders of India and Pakistan also appeared to fade. Many had expected that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, might meet on the sidelines of the two-day summit to defuse some of the tension between their nuclear-armed nations.
Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said Modi had met individually with all of the other leaders, but not with Sharif.
The leaders fly to a mountain resort on Thursday for several hours of unstructured discussions.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit, the first since 2011, is meant as a forum to discuss regional issues, but is usually dominated by the rivalry between Pakistan and India. It is supposed to be held annually, but is often shelved due to member nations disagreeing on meeting dates.
In his opening remarks Wednesday, Modi noted that it was the anniversary of the 2008 attacks on the Indian financial capital of Mumbai, in which Pakistani gunmen killed 166 people over four days. Relations between India and Pakistan were frozen after the attacks, and not much progress has been made since then.
"If we are sensitive to each other's security and lives or our people, we will deepen friendship, spark cooperation and advance cooperation in our region," Modi said. "Let us work together to combat terrorism."
Sharif's presence at Modi's swearing-in ceremony as prime minister after winning Indian general elections in May had raised hopes that the neighbors would revive peace talks. But the hopes were dashed when India called off official-level talks in August, upset that Pakistan's envoy to India had held discussions with Kashmiri separatists.
"My vision for our region is a dispute-free South Asia where instead of fighting with each other, we jointly fight poverty, illiteracy, disease, malnourishment and unemployment," Sharif said at the summit.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir. Both countries control parts of the Himalayan region but claim it in its entirety.
Leaders from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were expected to sign agreements on the sharing of railroads, highways and energy. But they failed to achieve a consensus on Wednesday, and unless one is achieved during the retreat on Thursday, the summit could end without any agreements signed.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he hopes to bring energy from Central Asia to South Asia.
Earlier, Modi announced that India would provide business visas for 3-5 years for South Asians and proposed a special SAARC Business Travelers Card. He also offered immediate visas for patients coming to India for medical treatment.
Associated Press writer Nirmala George in New Delhi contributed to this report.