BY SHAMBHU RAM JOSHI
India had refused to make an entry into South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) at the beginning, because she had misunderstood it as a forum to isolate her. Latter as India was convinced the real objective of SAARC and was made sure that the bilateral issues will not be discussed her membership became possible. As per expectation the member countries have not been benefited from the association.
The everlasting enmity of Pakistan and India, both equipped with nuclear weapons, has made SAARC nearly dysfunctional on one hand and terrifying the whole South Asian region on the other. Both the countries blame each other for encouraging the separatists and terrorists for the secession of their important parts and thus hurting their sovereignty. The fact that India always attempts to reduce importance of Pakistan and isolate her in international forums. In this regard, India played a villainous role to cancel the Islamabad SAARC Summit in the year 2016 blaming Pakistan exporting terrorism in India.
The other member countries including Nepal, which had a very cordial relations with Pakistan from the very beginning, followed the foot-prints of India and made one of her attempts successful. Since then, Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) has been constituted as the alternative to SAARC, although, there is a chunk of intellectuals who deny this fact.
BISTEC (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation) was established in 1997, which became BIMSTEC in 1998 with the entry of new member countries. BIMSTEC is said to have been bridging the relationship between the countries of South Asia and South East Asia. The member countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Shri Lanka are the South Asian countries, whereas, Myanmar and Thailand belong to the South East Asia.
Indian media states that BIMSTEC aims inter alia at promoting sub-regional cooperation in trade, investment and technological exchange. According to Chak Mun, ”For India, the development and integration of its Northeast region has been an underlying motivation for its engagement under BIMESTEC.” In fact, this forum was established for the economic prosperity of India, established in 1997, was intended to serve as the bridge between India and ASEAN to strengthen the India’s position in the eastern perimeter of Indian Ocean. India is not satisfied with trade worth to U.S. dollar 14 billions between it and countries in South Asia.
Its objectives on free trade seems to be the same that of SAARC. Although India is not satisfied from the result of BIMSTEC, she has given more importance to this association. The reason behind it may be the absence of challenging power Pakistan in this association. Has not this situation created India’s dominance in this forum, like in SAARC? India is the country which always demonstrates big brotherly attitude to her small neighboring countries.
Nepal is selected as the lead country for poverty alleviation, which is one of the fourteen priority areas of BIMSTEC. Mutual cooperation among the member countries is the driving force for their poverty alleviation and economic progress in the region. Will India change her behavior, respect sovereignty and respect legal rights such as free access to sea to a landlocked nation Nepal?
If the small countries along with Nepal — which got full membership of BIMSTEC in 2004 — are intended to get benefits from these types of regional forums! First of all, the Indian attitude has to be changed, otherwise, it will have no meaning for us. The present day Nepali leaders do not have the courage to debate boldly with India on the issues of national interests. They become like a rat in front of a cat when they have to face the Indian leaders.
Although SAARC is a brainchild of late Ziaur Rahaman, the former president of Bangladesh, late king Birendra played a significant role on its establishment. The Nepali patriotic people, who have deep sympathy on the king, are emotionally attached with SAARC. Although, some provisions need to be changed, Nepal should always play a role to activate SAARC, and BIMSTEC should not be made alternate to SAARC. Will it be possible from our leaders who dance to the tune of India?
The so-called alternate to SAARC
BY SHAMBHU RAM JOSHI