Another Asian grouping going SAARC’s way?

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  •  BIMSTEC also leading to nowhere

Have you ever heard of BIMSTEC? This abbreviation stands for Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral and Economic Cooperation. It is an international organisation, founded in 1997 and it comprises seven nations of South Asia and South East Asia, ‘housing 1.5 billion people and having a combined gross domestic product of $3.5 trillion’. This organisation is somewhat different from the SAARC with reference to its working procedure but as far as aims and objectives are concerned both organisations have a lot of common features. The permanent headquarter of BIMSTEC is in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Member countries include India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

On the other hand SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) was established in 1985. In the beginning there were seven Asian countries of SAARC including Pakistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Maldives, India, and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan joined this association later in 2007. Initially SAARC was established to retreat and uphold peace in the south Asian region and to create the opportunities of interaction between member countries. The main purpose of the formation of this association was to increase the process of economic and social development in member states, through joint action in the agreed areas of cooperation. Unfortunately this organisation could not prove itself effective because of a total non-co operational behaviour of India.

Professor Nageswara Rao, a well known Indian analyst on regional affairs, once commented very beautifully on the failure of SAARC by saying, “Instead of deliberating on mutual understanding and cooperation, for which SAARC had been formed, the member-countries were trying to pull the other down at international forums.” Certainly he was pointing towards India because it is India which has ever been playing the role of the ‘mischievous child’ in the whole game of SAARC. Indian interference in the countries like Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar is no more a secret. Moreover its continuous involvement in disturbing law and order situation in Pakistan’s province Balochistan with the help of its own ‘pet-terrorists’ and patronising of terrorists in major cities of Pakistan is also to the knowledge of every Tom, Dick and Harry.

Whenever, during the meetings of SAARC, India-effected countries expressed their reservations with reference to the hegemonic behaviour of India; they received a very negative response from Delhi. So feeling the growing resentment from these countries and apprehending further developments in this context, India started showing indifference to SAARC activities. Ultimately it all resulted in the practical death of SAARC. Now almost thirty three years after its birth, SAARC is alive only in files and papers. There is not even a single achievement to the credit of SAARC though it could have proved very fruitful with reference to the regional co-operation if it were not interrupted by India.

Reports say that this decision came after strong criticism from different quarters, including influential leaders from ruling Nepal Communist Party

The same fate is now waiting for BIMSTEC and this fate was being apprehended since long. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was the executive president of Sri Lanka for consecutive two terms from 1994 to 2005. Somewhere in the third week of 2017, she delivered a lecture at Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies auditorium, Dhaka, in which she had said, ‘Sadly, both the regional organisations — Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation or BIMSTEC and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC — have severely failed in resolving political problems between member states.’ The lecture was organised by Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies.

BIMSTEC was being considered a substitute of the SAARC in the beginning but now situation is altogether otherwise. Member countries are losing all hope, particularly landlocked countries like Nepal and Bhutan; the reason is nothing but hegemonic designs of India; bullying her neighboring countries has always been a built-in trait of India and her feeling of supremacy over the member countries is the basic reason of wide-spread disappointment among the member countries of SAARC as well as of BIMSTEC. Recently the fourth BIMSTEC Summit was held in Nepal on 30-31 August. The main theme of this summit was ‘Towards a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable Bay of Bengal region’. During the summit the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed, rather ‘instructed’, to all member countries to take part in the military exercises being hosted by India in Pune under the banner of BIMSTEC in the coming week. In response to this ‘instruction’, Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Oli asked Nepal’s National Defence Force not to participate in the drill, reported the Kathmandu Post. The decision of withdrawal from the exercises was taken just a day before the army squad was set to travel to Pune.

Reports say that this decision came after strong criticism from different quarters, including influential leaders from ruling Nepal Communist Party. Nepal has decided to go ahead with a bilateral exercise with China, say media reports. Speaking exclusively to India Today, Nepal army’s spokesperson Brigadier General Gokul Bhandaree said that India should not be concerned with the bilateral military exercises with China which will take place on September 17-28 in Chengdu region of China. “India is promoting BIMSTEC in order to undercut the SAARC, primarily to isolate Pakistan, which is a SAARC member state but not included in BIMSTEC,” said Biswas Baral, the editor of The Annapurna Express Kathmandu, in a recent article. Why do the countries in the south-Asian region allow India to mar every effort of bringing them close to one another; it is a very important question.