Transforming Eastern South Asia: Relevance of BIMSTEC

Smruti S. Pattanaik is Research Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • July 2018

    Of late the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is receiving sincere attention from its member countries as an organisation that has the potential to transform the region’s political and economic future. This is because there are several bilateral and sub-regional ongoing projects that are seeking to connect the region and bind them together into one economic whole. Apart from this, after the cancellation of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit in 2017, many would see the BIMSTEC as an alternative to SAARC. Though the Ministry of External Affairs of India continues to consider SAARC as an important regional cooperation mechanism and emphasises its relevance, BIMSTEC appears to be the flavour of the season. The general belief is that BIMSTEC does not have the limitations that the India-Pakistan conflict imposes on SAARC; therefore, it can be transformative institutional mechanism for regional cooperation. However, the fact that this forum has been in existence for more than 20 years without any significant achievement to its credit, would tell us a different story. This commentary seeks to analyse whether SAARC’s failure can be BIMSTEC’s gain? It examines the challenges before the BIMSTEC and its possible future as a regional cooperation mechanism.