With the “failure” of Saarc, Bangladesh is looking at sub-regional groupings, including BIMSTEC, for cooperation, said Gowher Rizvi, the international affairs adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. “In this context coming together in BIMSTEC is truly important,” Rizvi said on Saturday. “We already saw earlier Saarc with all our high hopes has not done much, and for the moment it is doubtful whether or not the next summit meeting will happen.”
He was speaking at the opening of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Network of Policy Think Tanks (BNPTT) meeting in Dhaka at the grouping’s headquarters, reported bdnews24. “We have seen NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) may or may not survive. We see the European Union under challenge,” he said, citing examples of the state of regional groupings in the world.
“In Bangladesh we see much of the future in the sub-region. It is the sub-region we are focussed on. We have BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal), BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation) and BIMSTEC….this is where we see our future.”
Bangladesh’s Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Bhutan’s Royal Institute for Governance and Strategic Studies (RIGSS), India’s Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS), Nepal’s Centre for Economic Development and Administration (CEDA), Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) and Thailand’s Indian Studies Center of Chulalongkorn University (ISCCU) are members of the BNPTT, which was formed at the second summit in November 2008.
The seven countries’ grouping connecting South Asia with the Southeast Asian region received much attention following India-Pakistan tensions that resulted in the postponement of last year’s Saarc summit in Islamabad, bdnews24 reported. Some think tanks now consider BIMSTEC as alternative to Saarc as Pakistan is not part of this grouping.
The grouping is promoting 14 priority sectors of development and common concerns including trade and investment, transport and communication, tourism and people-to-people contact. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted BIMSTEC leaders at an outreach meet in Goa last year during the BRICS summit. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina joined the meeting.
BIMSTEC Secretary General Sumith Nakandala said their intention was to help the BIMSTEC think tank network “effectively carry out duties for policy advocacy in all 14 priority areas”. Gowher Rizvi thanked the secretary general for “truly revitalising BIMSTEC and giving it an extraordinary sense of direction and energy”.
He also urged the think tanks to come up with big ideas that “excite leaders to action and give them vision”. Bangladesh Foreign Ministry’s director general for Saarc and BIMSTEC Tareq Ahmed said Bangladesh is the founding member of BIMSTEC and it is very much committed to its agenda. “Our Prime Minister has already made her commitment for BIMSTEC.”