Published:  12:57 AM, 09 September 2018

BIMSTEC must be a vibrant organization

BIMSTEC was formed in 1997 for enhancing cooperation in all sectors among the countries around the Bay of Bengal. Four countries -- India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Thailand - were the founding member of the organization. Later on Myanmar was included. 

Now the number of BIMSTEC member states has reached seven with the inclusion of Nepal and Bhutan. At the closing session, the Nepalese prime minister KP Sharma Oli presented an 18-point draft of the Kathmandu Declaration, which was adopted unanimously.

It included cooperation in areas such as agricultural technology exchange, gradual reduction of climate change impact, boosting trade and investment, blue economy, mountain economy, tourism, cultural cooperation and people-to-people contact. The Nepalese PM also handed over the chairmanship of the grouping to the Sri Lankan president.

Acknowledging that enhanced inter-linkages and inter-dependence within the economies and societies of the BIMSTEC member states provide greater opportunity to advance regional cooperation, the summit underlined the importance of multidimensional connectivity for economic integration and shared prosperity.

The fourth BIMSTEC Summit concluded in Kathmandu with the member states inking a deal for cross-country energy grid interconnection and reaffirming strong commitment to working out a comprehensive approach to combat terrorism. In the two-day summit, BIMSTEC leaders agreed to turn the Bay of Bengal region peaceful and prosperous by building common strengths through collective efforts.

BIMSTEC passed two decades; there is a development in the field of cooperation. Katmandu summit have taken some very important decisions and if these are implemented then there will be a very significant development for peace, cooperation and connectivity. 

The declaration of the summit acknowledged the importance of trade and investment as one of the major contributing factors for fostering economic and social development in the region. The Kathmandu Declaration deplored terrorist attacks in all parts of the world, including in BIMSTEC countries, and strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

"Affirm that the fight against terrorism should target not only terrorists, terror organizations and networks but also identify and hold accountable States and non-State entities that encourage, support or finance terrorism, provide sanctuaries to terrorists and terror groups and falsely extol their virtues," the Declaration said.

The BIMSTEC member states reiterated their strong commitment to combat terrorism and called upon all countries to devise a comprehensive approach in this regard which should include preventing financing of terrorists and terrorist actions from territories under their control, blocking recruitment and cross-border movement of terrorists, countering radicalization, tackling misuse of internet for purposes of terrorism and dismantling terrorist safe havens.

It is mentionable that Saarc was formed in 1985. The first summit was held in Dhaka where seven founder member countries participated. Later on Afghanistan was included. Last three decades 18 summit meetings were held. 

But 19th summit meeting to be held in Pakistan on November had postponed because India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan expressed their inability to participate in the summit. It may be mentioned that India condemned terrorist attack in army base camp Uri of Kashmir where 19 Indian soldiers had been killed.

It is also reported terrorist groups based in Pakistan Laskar-e-Taiba (LCT) and JeM carried out attacks in Pathankot, Mumbai, Indian parliament and in other places. Pakistan and its intelligence didn't take effective steps against these terrorist groups. 

Blaming this India expressed its inability to participate in the coming summit. Bangladesh also followed it for interference regarding the trial of War criminals of liberation war. 

Afghanistan and Bhutan also expressed solidarity with the decision, later on Sri Lanka and Maldives also followed it.Summit strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and retreated the strong commitment to combated terrorism. It is very important development for peace and progress. 

Member states also agreed to make the organization a dynamic, effective and result-oriented body for intensifying regional cooperation, alleviating poverty and promoting connectivity, energy and free trade. The summit ended with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on establishing a BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection to enhance energy cooperation among the seven member states. 

The countries signed the deal, which is expected to pave the way for buying and selling electricity among BIMSTEC members once the cross-country energy grids will be put in place. 

The MoU would open the door for energy cooperation among the member states of South Asia and South East Asia and would also facilitate the promotion of efficient, economic, and secure operation of power system through the development of regional electricity networks.

We know energy is the prime mover of development. So establishment of BIMSTEC Greed interconnection to enhance energy cooperation will be helpful for significant development of the region. 

It is mentionable that there are cool, gas as well as hydro, solar, wind, biomass and other energy resources in the region. Already there is a Greed connection among Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and electricity is being transmitted. If MoU is implemented than utilization of energy resources will be enhanced.

Besides, the summit agreed to establish seamless multi-modal transportation linkages and smooth, synchronized and simplified transit facilities through the development, expansion and modernization of highways, railways, waterways, sea routes and airways in the region.

It was also decided to speed up the efforts to conclude the BIMSTEC Coastal Shipping Agreement and the BIMSTEC Motor Vehicle Agreement as early as possible taking into account the special circumstances and needs of the member states. 

Additionally, the grouping decided for an early conclusion of BIMSTEC Free Trade Area (FTA) negotiations, and directed the BIMSTEC Trade and Economic Ministerial Meeting and its subsidiary bodies, including the Trade Negotiating Committee, to expedite finalization of all related agreements of the BIMSTEC FTA as early as possible.

It is evident from the decisions that the summit agreed to expedite negotiation for agreements regarding physical connectivity and FTA. It is possible because there are commonalities among the countries and also bilateral negotiations have reached a certain stage. It is mentionable BBIN motor vehicle agreement has already been done and it is at the stage of implementation. 

The summit also called for exploring the possibility of establishing a BIMSTEC development fund with voluntary contributions from the member states. The fund would be utilized for research and planning of BIMSTEC and financing of projects, and other activities of the regional organization.

BIMSTEC leaders emphasized the importance of blue economy, as well as mountain economy and agreed to cooperate in this sector for sustainable development of the region. They decided to establish an Inter-governmental Expert Group to develop an action plan on blue economy, keeping in mind the special needs and circumstances of the landlocked Member States.

They agreed to revitalize the activities of BIMSTEC Business Forum and BIMSTEC Economic Forum to further strengthen government-private sector cooperation for the promotion of trade and investment and task the expert group on BIMSTEC visa matters to continue negotiations for finalizing modalities for the BIMSTEC Visa Facilitation.

The BIMSTEC leaders noted with satisfaction the preparation of the draft BIMSTEC Master Plan on Transport Connectivity and called for its early adoption and thank the Asian Development Bank for providing support to prepare the Master Plan and task the BIMSTEC Transport Connectivity Working Group (BTCWG) to work out the modalities for its implementation, giving due attention to the special circumstances and needs of the Member States.

The above decisions will accelerate cooperation and ensure sustainable development in the region. There are criticisms regarding Rohingya issue because no step has been taken in resolving the problem. PM Sheikh Hasina said that she had discussed Rohingya issue with Myanmar president inside line. Of course bilateral issue generally is not discussed in the group forum. 

It is mentionable that some bilateral issues have already been solved in the region. Even maritime boundary of Bangladesh- Myanmar has been solved. PM Sheikh Hasina expressed her satisfaction regarding outcome of BIMSTEC in the press conference. From Indian side HC H. Vardan Shringla termed the summit as a very successful one. 

He mentioned that PM Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi consider BIMSTEC as a very important regional group which represents aspiration of a very large number of people in the region. There is positive response from other countries also. BIMSTEC is moving forward and it will be vibrant organizations in future if decision is implemented.

The writer is an academic and
former diplomat

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