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Will Nepal benefit from Modi-dominated BIMSTEC?

By Our Reporter
The fourth Summit of the Bay Of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) concluded in Kathmandu last week by issuing an 18-point declaration. Although Nepal may not derive the desired fruit from the regional body immediately, the government managed to win the hearts of the regional leaders by successfully hosting the Summit. The summit served as a testimony to the government’s diplomatic dexterity and confidence even though it failed to deliver in home.
Although in 21 years of its establishment the BIMSTEC still has not its charters and needs organisational reforms, which the Kathmandu summit tried to address. Considering its slow pace over the last two decades, the BIMSTEC would not emerge as a vibrant regional body. It is likely to face snag the SAARC faced although there is no rivalry among its members countries as in the SAARC, which has virtually been in the death bed owing to enmity between India and Pakistan.
When many analysts have taken BIMSTEC as a brainchild of India to isolate Pakistan from regional grouping and as a rival organisation of SAARC, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said that BIMSTEC does not substitute the SAARC. However, his arguments could be suspected on the ground that five of the eight SAARC members have been accommodated in the BIMSTEC excluding Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Maldives. Moreover, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi dominated the Summit not only by putting forth   proposals like creating forum of women lawmakers and announcing scholarships for member states. Observers clearly saw the domination of India in BIMSTEC not only during the inaugural session but the way the Indian Prime Minister came to Nepal with his own security commando to participate in it. No other leaders brought security commandos with them as Modi.
On the positive note, the leaders have committed to end poverty in the BIMSTEC nations by 2030 in line with the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. The Summit has become a milestone in ramping up the efforts for poverty alleviation, increase in trade and investment, job creation, transport linkages, providing greater access, more affordable and high-speed internet and mobile communication and power trade. The Summit reiterated strong commitment to combat terrorism and call upon all countries to devise a comprehensive approach for the purpose. In five years after hosting the 18th SAARC Summit in 2014, six heads of the State or Government visited Nepal bringing the country to the limelight in the regional media.
However, the summit also decided to go for a joint military exercise, which may irk China and Pakistan because BIMSTEC was not formed for any military purpose. But as India wanted to show its strength in the region, the idea of military exercise was inserted in BIMSTEC. Even the leaders of Prime Minister K P Oil’s party, the CPN, have objected to the decision.
If the agreements and commitments expressed during the Summit are honestly implemented, Nepal can benefit from two of its outcomes—agreements on the hydropower business and measures to mitigate the problem of climate change. The summit has opened a way for expanding transmission line among the member countries, which means Nepal can sell power to Bangladesh and even Thailand. However, a few directives of India could prevent Nepal from taking maximum benefits by harnessing power as the Indian directives do not allow India to buy power produced by the companies other than the Indians.
Again, exclusion of China, the biggest economy and regional power as well as biggest investor, could hamper the growth of this regional body.

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