In a boost to India’s diplomatic outreach for the Bay of Bengal economic zone, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will participate in October 15-16, BRICS outreach session for BIMSTEC, a regional grouping made of economies connected to the Bay of Bengal.
Confirmation of Ms. Hasina’s participation came from her Economic Adviser, Masih-ur-Rahman on Monday, even as Sri Lankan diplomats indicated that President Maithripala Sirisena will also attend the event which has received a confirmation from Myanmar Foreign Minister and State Counsellor Aung San Su Kyi.
The high power BIMSTEC outreach in October which will be held just weeks before the November SAARC summit in Islamabad, has created the impression that the two crucial economies in SAARC — India and Bangladesh — are in the process of downgrading involvement in SAARC due to bilateral problems with Pakistan.
Both India and Bangladesh are currently experiencing difficult phases with Pakistan over the issue of alleged support of Pakistan to cross-border terror. India blamed Pakistan for promoting cross border violence in Kashmir while Bangladesh has sent back Pakistani diplomats on charges of being involved in promoting extremism in the country. The cold ties between Dhaka and Islamabad were on display after Dhaka did not send the minister of home affairs at the SAARC ministerial in Islamabad on August 5 where Home Minister Rajnath Singh received a cold reception.
However, Dr. Rahman did not confirm that Bangladesh is in the process of reducing its commitment to SAARC but explained, “Pakistan is geographically not so close to Bangladesh. Our cooperation in areas like energy and transport has to be with India, Bhutan, Nepal. We have extended support to SAARC in the past but our attitude to regional organisations is based on how such bodies can be beneficial to us. At present we have to look at activity-specific projects and not so much on regional diplomacy.”
Dr. Rahman’s comments came days after Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar spoke about difficulties in regional diplomacy in South Asia accusing Pakistan of holding out on initiatives in India’s neighbourhood.
“We have one standout country in the region which has a different view of terrorism which makes it a difficult partner for all of us,” Mr. Jaishankar said about the difficulty that Pakistan poses to regional cooperation.
The interface between BRICS-BIMSTEC is designed to provide greater global exposure to the regional grouping which is headquartered in Dhaka and includes India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
The seven-member BIMSTEC or Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation was launched in 1997 but over the years has been energised due to growing cooperative projects among member countries like the BBIN (Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal) project where member countries worked to create a transport corridor for goods and traders.