BIMSTEC being flaunted as alternative to SAARC: Some merits

BIMSTEC being flaunted as alternative to SAARC: Some merits

Agency News

New Delhi, Sep 2: Besides a few diplomatic milestones, one major achievement of recently concluded BIMSTEC Summit is that perhaps yet again the grouping around Bay of Bengal has come to be brandished as an alternative to SAARC.

The future roadmap could be to build up an effective linkage between BIMSTEC and ASEAN.

Essentially SAARC includes South Asian nations, including Pakistan and BIMSTEC has five South Asian nations and two from South East Asia – but the group importantly excludes India’s western neighbour.

But despite India’s intent to leave Pakistan high and dry in the region, there are also issues which directly relate to further initiatives from India – as a responsible driver of the BIMSTEC.

According to diplomatic sources, Indian contribution to BIMSTEC fund was minimal only about US$17,000 till fiscal 2016 but enhanced lately. Even the BIMSTEC secretariat set up in Dhaka made a lukewarm beginning.

Therefore, it was apt for the BIMSTEC leaders in Kathmandu to pledge among other things the need to revamp the Secretariat. Taking a lead, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed a number of new initiatives seeking to find space for varied sections of society in the Bay of Bengal region.

On this backdrop, it would be relevant to highlight what a former BIMSTEC secretary general Sumith Nakandala had underlined sometime back that there is “no need for reinventing the wheel” but the common heritage around the Bay of Bengal ought to be rediscovered.

According to Carnegie India, linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the Bay of Bengal occupies a central position in relation to global economic flows in a way that few other regions do. Estimates say one-fourth of the world’s traded goods cross the Bay of Bengal every year and as a strategic funnel to the Malacca Straits, the region has grown in strategic importance.

For India, it is a crucial avenue for projecting its naval prowess. The region has also its own importance for China in giving it the access route to the Indian Ocean.

In retrospect, the one major achievement of recently concluded BIMSTEC Summit in Kathmandu has again brought in to focus the relevance of SAARC – which for more reasons than one has failed to work for economic integration and regional connectivity.

In the words of former diplomats even long back the BIMSTEC was at risk of being little more than a ‘rebound relationship’.

On August 31, the Declaration adopted in BIMSTEC Summit underlined in crystal terms the resolve of the leadership to make the regional grouping more influential in the contemporary setting and thereby decided to bring about institutional reforms.

According to many, the promise of BIMSTEC lies in India’s newfound zeal to promote its foreign policy themes -- Act East and Neighbourhood First.

There is also a feeling that Kathmandu Summit of BIMSTEC has yet again in a way able to build up pressure on Pakistan to act firmly against terror – even as some see the developments in Kathmandu as yet another step towards isolation of India’s western neighbour.

The argument is endorsed by a few experts and they also see good enough reasons for the region to move ahead and charter a roadmap that is beyond the limitation of the SAARC.

Former diplomat, G Parthasarathy says: “Pakistan has tried to underline the role of SAARC and South Asia as a region by insisting on making China a member of the SAARC knowing it pretty well China is not a South Asian country”.

Moreover, there are experts who maintain that Islamabad has not implemented the provisions of the SAARC Free Trade Agreement and also had denied road connectivity for a successful India-Afghan trade.

Therefore, much to the satisfaction of Indian side the Declaration adopted at the BIMSTEC Summit Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan, and Nepal said that: "....the fight against terrorism should target not only terrorists, terror organizations and networks but also identify and hold accountable States and non-State entities that encourage, support or finance terrorism, provide sanctuaries to terrorists and terror groups and falsely extol their virtues".

In fact, former diplomats like Parthasarathy say in near future efforts should be channelised to develop institutional links between BIMSTEC and ASEAN on economic cooperation, maritime security and even disaster management across the Bay of Bengal. (UNI)