NEW DELHI: The lassitude of SAARC has been booster for another regional grouping BIMSTEC, that has finally taken off after two decades. Exhausted for failing to make any significant progress through SAARC, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has moved to even merge the divisions looking after SAARC and BIMSTEC.
Earlier this month, two meetings of officials took place – one under the auspices of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and another under Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) in Kathmandu. The programming committee of SAARC has met to decide on the agenda, but no dates could be finalized for the SAARC Summit. But BIMSTEC was marked with positivity.
“The Government expects that regional cooperation would advance under both BIMSTEC and BBIN. We hope that these examples would also impact positively, on SAARC and encourage an atmosphere free of terror and violence that is conducive for regional cooperation,” Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj told the Lok Sabha in a written reply recently.
India has sought cessation of state-sponsored terrorism before SAARC summit can be held. But BIMSTEC (Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Thailand as members) have made great progress in connectivity and trade in the region. “The work has been overlapping. Many member countries of SAARC are also part of BIMSTEC, so it makes sense to have one division for both,” MEA sources told the Express. Earlier Joint Secretary Soumen Bagchi has been heading the BIMSTEC division that has now moved under Joint Secretary Prashant Aggarwal heading the SAARC division.
But the diplomats do not want to write off SAARC completely. “Every grouping has a takeoff time and it is invigorating to see how decisions are made and executed in BIMSTEC. But that does not mean SAARC is not necessary,” MEA officials added. According to officials BIMSTEC is evolving into a model of cooperation with all members taking lead in implementing the decisions taken.