17:21 GMT02 December 2020
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    It is not a good idea for India to promote BIMSTEC at the cost of SAARC even though hurdles by Islamabad to enhance regional cooperation has frustrated India as well as other South Asian countries

    New Delhi (Sputnik) — Over 30 years after South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation was formed, a regional integration framework has become a victim to the rivalry between its two biggest members.

    This may be forcing member states to search for alternatives. Many SAARC member countries, including India, are particularly exasperated with Islamabad playing spoilsport within the regional grouping.

    India’s top foreign ministry official echoed that sentiment on Monday. Making an indirect reference to Pakistan, Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said that “blocking every possible initiative” under SAARC is a hugely damaging approach and will force countries of the region to look for other options like the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) to boost regional cooperation.

    “India has immense interest in the SAARC. But, some basic standards of regional cooperation have to apply as the opposition to major initiatives like those aimed at improving regional connectivity have frustrated a majority of the member countries,” said Jaishankar while addressing a leading government think-tank in New Delhi.

    SAARC’s 19th summit meeting in Islamabad was called off after India and some other member countries refused to participate. When India opted to invite BIMSTEC to the Goa BRICS summit, it became clear that India and some other countries were looking for a grouping that excludes Pakistan.

    A major dilemma for India’s foreign establishment is: how to deal with Islamabad both bilaterally and regionally and experts believe that isolating Pakistan is not in New Delhi’s interest.

    “India must keep on engaging Pakistan to further regional cooperation, even if India accedes to Pakistan on non-terror matters,” say Deep K. Datta-Ray, Assistant Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University told Sputnik.

    BIMSTEC with 1.5 billion people and a combined gross domestic product of $2.5 trillion has immense potential but it is beset with problems of unsettled borders, refugee crisis, and ethnic tensions between member states. And India must continue its engagement with both SAARC and BIMSTEC and not excluding one at the cost of the other.

    “It is in keeping with that idea of cooperation to create prosperity for all that India should also push at every regional organization, be it BIMSTEC or the Commonwealth. Each offers its own advantages. While BIMSTEC has Southeast Asian stakeholders, it is hobbled by China's shadow,” he adds.


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