DHAKA – Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invited leaders from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand to join the leaders from Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa in the Indian state of Goa for an outreach meeting and is also considering inviting Maldives and Afghanistan, virtually making it a Saarc summit without Pakistan.
India has launched a well-orchestrated effort with its might behind several initiatives in the region to bring together its allies in South Asia, leaving Pakistan in the dust.
Diplomatic sources say India aims to get behind two forums in earnest —Bimstec (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) — and also to forge a new development platform for Bangladesh, India and Myanmar.
India’s initiative comes hot on the heels of the postponement of Saarc Summit in November after most of its members including Bangladesh refused to go to Islamabad over Pakistan’s alleged involvement in cross-border crimes and interferences.
Indian resort city of Goa will host the Brics summit on October 15. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already invited leaders from the Bimstec countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand — to join the Brics leaders in the retreat for an outreach meeting the next day.
New Delhi is also considering inviting Maldives and Afghanistan, who are not Bimstec members, to the outreach meet. “It is virtually going to be a Saarc summit minus Pakistan,” an Indian diplomat, choosing not to be named, told The Daily Star.
Diplomatic sources in New Delhi said Modi will exclusively meet the four leaders of Saarc nations — Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka — to share India’s perspective on cooperation and also discuss the possibility of isolating Pakistan.
Meanwhile, another sub-regional initiative BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) is set to start intensive efforts to gear up cooperation among the partners, confide diplomats of member countries.
After Pakistan withheld support for a road project for connecting the South Asian countries during the last Saarc Summit in Nepal in 2014, BBIN went ahead and signed the Motor Vehicles Agreement that would allow cross-border road traffic among the member nations.
Besides, leading Indian think-tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF) is advocating for a Bangladesh-India-Myanmar platform which it believes holds massive development potentials.
“We have settled maritime boundary, and Bangladesh, Myanmar and India could work in a tri-lateral way to explore energy in the Bay of Bengal. We can share our resources to explore energy and all the three countries would be benefited,” ORF went on record as saying.
Bangladesh, India and Myanmar can expand a pipeline to share petroleum resources, it says.
New Delhi is also actively working on finding ways to accommodate Maldives and Afghanistan, two neighbouring countries who are not members of either Bimstec or BBIN.
Then, there is the South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation programme (SASEC), comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, which was established in 2001. It was only a few days ago that SASEC released its plan of action for the first time. It’s Operational Plan 2016-2025 contains details of trade, transport and energy projects worth billions of dollars.
This strategy is driven not only by Pakistan turning a blind eye to terrorism, but also by impeding progress on other fronts such as trade, energy, and road connectivity in the region for decades.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that the failure of the regional grouping to deliver “acceptable results” for all members would spell a “bleak future” and compel his country to find other “viable options”. He, however, did not elaborate on the “options.”
Wickremesinghe was delivering a special speech at the New Zealand Parliament House on October 3.
Diplomatic sources said Brics leaders will meet Bimstec leaders in Goa, making it the first time the engagement is held outside New Delhi, when India is to use the assembly of the world leaders to once again underscore the need for stepping up counterterrorism cooperation among the countries in the region.
“The upcoming outreach summit would not only be an opportunity to deepen ties with ourselves, we will also interact with India’s neighbouring countries of Bimstec,” said an Indian diplomat in New Delhi.
Besides, he said, the two back-to-back summits would be an opportunity not for India only because the Bimstec leaders will also be able to interact with Brics nations’ leaders.
The 11 participating leaders are Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Brazil’s interim President Michel Temer, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay and Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi.
Credits: By Rezaul Karim
06 October 2016
The Daily Star, Bangladesh