New Delhi: India is to chair a meeting of the national security advisors of a group of countries from South and South-east Asia to chalk out plans to combat terrorism and trans-national crime.
India—the biggest country in the grouping that comprises Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal, known by its acronym Bimstec—will also host a meeting to finalise a motor vehicles pact, another to finalise an agreement to facilitate electricity trade in the region as well as an annual drill on disaster management.
These decisions were announced in a statement after a meeting of senior officials of the seven countries in Kathmandu on Tuesday.
“This marked an important step forward to realize the action oriented agenda for Bimstec agreed by the leaders at their Retreat hosted by Prime Minister Modi in Goa in October 2016," the statement said.
The reference was to Bimstec or the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation member states being invited by India to an outreach meeting with leaders of the five fast growing emerging market economies—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa in Goa last year.
“In keeping with the high priority Bimstec Members attach to combat terrorism and trans-national crime, it was agreed that India would host the first ever meeting of Bimstec National Security Chiefs to discuss action against spread of terrorism, violent extremism and radicalisation. India would also be hosting an international conference on countering radicalization," the statement said.
“To boost regional connectivity, India would organize a meeting of the Working Group to finalize the Bimstec Motor Vehicles Agreement. An MoU on Grid Interconnection has also been finalized to facilitate electricity trade in the region. The Trade Negotiating Committee would shortly take up trade and trade facilitation matters. Given the region’s vulnerability to natural calamities, India would organize the first annual disaster management exercise," it said.
“A network of Bimstec tour operators would be organized in India to boost tourism through measures such as composite tour packages," the statement said adding the meeting also discussed progress in several other key initiatives in trade and investment, energy, technology, fisheries, climate change, culture, people-to-people contacts and other sectors.
A Bimstec foreign ministers’ meeting will review the progress of these ideas later before a Bimstec Summit to be hosted later this year, the statement said.
India has been seen as throwing its weight behind Bimstec after the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or Saarc failing to achieve any major results more than three decades after coming into being. Cooperation within the grouping has been stymied largely due to tensions between India and Pakistan. Efforts to push through a motor vehicles pact and other connectivity agreements have met little success.
Bimstec more naturally lends itself to regional integration—physical connectivity as well as economic cooperation—than Saarc and therefore seems a more attractive alternative.
The grouping has all the members of the Saarc barring only Afghanistan, Maldives and Pakistan.
The initiative to establish Bimstec was undertaken by Thailand in 1994 to explore economic cooperation on a sub-regional basis involving contiguous countries in South-East and South Asia around the Bay of Bengal.
Myanmar was admitted in December 1997 and the initiative was renamed Bimstec. It brings together 1.5 billion people or 21% of the world population and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of over $2.5 trillion.