BIMSTEC is India’s strategic initiative. Since SAARC is not moving because of Pakistan, India aims to eliminate Pakistan and consolidate relations with other South Asian countries.
Integrate with the economically dynamic region of South East Asia, replace Pakistan with Thailand.
BIMSTEC was seen as a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia. According to C Rajamohan, the huge geostrategic significance of BIMSTEC is that it brings India closer to the three strategic regions.
1) Bay of Bengal. 2) Mekong region and 3) Sub-Himalayan.
History of BIMSTEC
First established in 1997 with 4 countries BIST – Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Towards the end of 1997, Myanmar joined and in 2004 Nepal and Bhutan joined.
Presently it consists of 1.5bn people, $2.7tn GDP, despite slowdown in global economic growth, the economies are growing at the rate of 6.5%.
Principles of BIMSTEC.
BIMSTEC is an addition to the bilateral and other regional cooperation rather than the substitute. It has 14 priority areas.
Like all Indian initiatives, it has been languishing. However in recent years, India has realized its importance. During the time of Manmohan Singh, secretariat was established at Dhaka. Modi has invited BIMSTEC on the sidelines of BRICS summit in Goa.
Future prospects of BIMSTEC
1) Future will depend upon the future of India China relations.
2) India’s relations with its own neighbours like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh are uncertain.
3) Rohingya issues is a big spoiler.
4) Countries are negotiating FTA but
a) Economies are protectionist.
b) Neither physical infrastructure nor financial.
c) Ease of doing business is poor.
d) Thailand is also suffering from domestic instability.
Sustained efforts by India is needed.
Can BIMSTEC be alternative to SAARC? No. Improvements in relations with Pakistan is a necessity for India’s integration with West Asia.