Columns | Cutting Edge
Goodbye SAARC, Hello BIMSTEC?
The adoption of a BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal multi-modal technical and economic cooperation) charter at the grouping's 25th year is a much needed, and much delayed development
31 Mar, 2022
(Illustration: Saurabh Singh)
The formalisation of the charter is remarkable for two reasons, apart from providing an institutional architecture to the group. For one it signals the deepening irrelevance, if not abandonment, of the stuttering SAARC. And it is important for the inclusion of military-ruled Myanmar despite the reservations expressed by the US.
The ill-fated SAARC had repeatedly stumbled in the face of Pakistan’s refusal to set aside its partisan concerns about India. Even though the idea of binding south Asia in a common vision of social development and economic progress makes a lot of sense, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation was going nowhere.
Indeed, the poor relations between India and Pakistan, marred by fundamental differences over Islamabad’s support to terrorism aimed at fomenting violence in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India pretty much disabled SAARC. The summit, due to be hosted by Pakistan since 2016, has not happened. India has no interest in a show that might see Pakistan raising contentious bilateral issues.
If India has no interest in falling victim to Pakistan’s traditional “ambush” diplomacy, it has made a strong point in Myanmar’s continued inclusion in BIMSTEC. Apart from being part of the Bay of Bengal littoral, isolating Myanmar and allowing China a free hand does not suit India’s purpose even if the Junta remains a pariah for the US.
India has not supported the thoroughly illegal ouster, arrest and cooked up trial of Aung San Suu Kyi. In fact, her continued detention along with other innocents like Australian academic Prof Sean Turnell on trumped up official secrets act charges is a matter of deep concern and consternation for the global community.
However, shunning Myanmar will only reduce what leverage countries like India have with the country and further rule out any possible return to democracy. Myanmar has cooperated extensively in controlling insurgents on the border with India’s north-east.
Also, given China’s lack of concern for issues like democracy or human rights, turning Myanmar into a Chinese zone of influence is hardly very clever.
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