Modi’s Swearing-In Invitation to BIMSTEC Sends Out Subtle Yet Strong Message to Pakistan and China
The invitations this time have one strong message — that India has no intention of keeping Pakistan as part of its state of affairs.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks to the media after meeting with the President to stake claim to form the government on May 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
New Delhi: In 2014, when Narendra Modi was to be sworn in as Prime Minister for the first time, he invited leaders from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries. Then Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif was also present at the ceremony and global corridors were abuzz with talks of a fresh dialogue between the two adversarial nations.
This time, as Modi sets to take charge as PM for the second time, SAARC countries have been kept out. Instead, the administration has invited leaders from the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) countries — Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand. The invitations this time have one strong message — that India has no intention of keeping Pakistan as part of its state of affairs.
In the last three years of his term, Modi has made sure that India does not interact with Pakistan at any level. In 2016, after the Uri attack, India boycotted SAARC and instead gave a solid backing to the strengthening of the BIMSTEC. It’s interesting because the organisation (BIMSTEC) has largely been inactive for the last 20-odd years. It was established in 1997 and had ambitious plans of holding summits every two years. However, up until 2018, there have only been three summits.
In fact, India’s push for BIMSTEC worked so well that countries from SAARC like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka joined in isolating Pakistan.
A former diplomat, on condition of anonymity, said Modi’s strategy of playing up BIMSTEC and completely ignoring SAARC is no surprise since it’s almost the same countries, barring Pakistan, adding that this sends out a clear message of BIMSTEC being a better choice for India when it comes to its own development and that there would be negligible interest in re-starting dialogue via SAARC.
Three SAARC countries missing in BIMSTEC — Pakistan, Maldives and Afghanistan. And out of these three, India has a robust and strong relationship with Afghanistan which has been a staunch critic of Pakistan’s proxy terror war. Maldives, likely to be Modi’s first stop after taking charge as PM for the second time, has already signalled at strengthening ties with India under its current President, Ibrahim Solih. Inherently, that means that BIMSTEC could well be on its way replace SAARC entirely.
Under Modi’s regime, India has ensured that it goes all out in making sure Pakistan is isolated.
In 2018, when Modi addressed the plenary session of the BIMSTEC Summit in Kathmandu, he called the group an “amalgamation of India’s Act East Policy and neighbourhood first policy” and stressed on the need for connectivity.
The need for stronger connectivity only becomes more essential with China’s renewed interest in the Bay of Bengal. Xi Jinping has taken his ambitious Belt and Road Initiative ( BRI) to almost all BIMSTEC countries, barring Bhutan and India.
Interests of countries stem primarily from the fact that one-fourth of the world’s traded goods travel via the Bay of Bengal. For China, the Bay is an entry to its further interests in the Indian Ocean, something that India has been keeping an eye out for.
Strategically, too, developing BIMSTEC is a win-win for India. Once on the path of development, states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal, can have direct links to countries like Thailand and Myanmar.
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