BIMSTEC vs SAARC: Can India Win Hearts at BIMSTEC Summit 2018?

BIMSTEC Summit 2018 will be held in Kathmandu (Nepal) this week. Can India see BIMSTEC summit as an alternative to the SAARC? The Bay of Bengal Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) has seven member nations including India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The advantage India enjoys in BIMSTEC is that unlike SAARC, Pakistan isn’t a member here.

But how prudent would it be to see BIMSTEC as an opportunity for India to emerge as a regional superpower? BIMSTEC has been ignored for long and has remained sidelined mostly despite being a cluster of seven nations.

The very first meeting of BIMSTEC was held in Bangkok in June 1997 and the second meeting followed in 2008. Between 1997 and 2008 BIMSTEC was ignored and there were no summits held. Then the third summit came in 2014 in Myanmar after a gap of six years and now the fourth one will take place in 2018. Given the BIMSTEC remains so neglected, how can India rely on BIMSTEC to overcome constraints offered by SAARC?

While the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an active group, BIMSTEC is more like a dormant body which wakes up after years. So, how can India consider the BIMSTEC to be a game changer for it in the geopolitical scenario? BIMSTEC meetings are rather considered to be retreats for the leaders of the member nations and there are hardly any talks on policy.

The future of BIMSTEC lies in India’s newfound enthusiasm under the Act East Policy of Narendra Modi. While BIMSTEC may end up emerging as a powerful alliance in times to come, SAARC is gradually dying and becoming dysfunctional since 2014.

India-Pakistan relations have been a stumbling block to India’s pursuit of being a regional power and BIMSTEC takes Pakistan out of the picture. But for BIMSTEC to be seen as an alternative to SAARC, India must revive the BIMSTEC by investing enthusiasm in it. To bank upon the present state of the BIMSTEC will only leave India disappointed.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has offered to ease India-Pakistan relations. Armies from both the countries participated in the joint military drills held by the SCO in Russia very recently. But even the SCO has dominating powers like Russia and China and the only body where India can be an unparalleled power is the BIMSTEC.

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