Mains Paper 2 : International Relations
Prelims level : BIMSTEC
Mains level : India and its neighbourhood relations
The government has shown its commitment to its strategy of
“Neighbourhood First” by inviting the leaders of neighbouring countries for
the second time to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony on
The focus will continue this week when he makes his first visit in this
tenure to the Maldives and Sri Lanka, something that has become tradition
for all Indian Prime Ministers.
The obvious difference between Mr. Modi’s invitations to his taking
office the first and second time is that in 2014 they went to the leaders of
the eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC),
while in 2019 they went to leaders of the seven-member Bay of Bengal
Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).
BIMSTEC includes five SAARC members (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal,
Sri Lanka), and Myanmar and Thailand, while leaving SAARC members
Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Maldives out, due to the geographical location
of the Bay of Bengal.
Subsuming the other
To extrapolate from this that BIMSTEC has replaced SAARC, or that the
Modi government is in effect building the foundations of BIMSTEC over the
grave of SAARC is both illogical and contrary to the founding principles of
SAARC, as an organisation, reflects the South Asian identity of the
countries, historically and contemporarily.
This is a naturally made geographical identity. Equally, there is a
cultural, linguistic, religious and culinary affinity that defines South
Therefore, just as rivers, climatic conditions flow naturally from one
South Asian country to the other, so do the films, poetry, humour,
entertainment and food.
Since 1985 when the SAARC charter was signed, the organisation has
developed common cause in several fields: agriculture, education, health,
climate change, science and technology, transport and environment.
Each area has seen modest but sustainable growth in cooperation.
SAARC’s biggest failure, however, comes from the political sphere, where
mainly due to India-Pakistan tensions, heads of state have met only 18 times
in 34 years; it has been five years since the last summit in Kathmandu.
BIMSTEC, on the other hand, is not moored in the identity of the nations
that are members.
It is essentially a grouping of countries situated around the Bay of
Bengal, and began in 1997 (Bhutan and Nepal joined in 2004), a decade after
The organisation did not even have a secretariat until 2014.
While it has made some progress in technical areas, leaders of BIMSTEC
nations have held summits just four times in 22 years.
With India’s growing frustration over cross-border terrorism emanating
from Pakistan, it hopes to build more on BIMSTEC’s potential.
But the organisation is unlikely to supplant SAARC for a specific
India’s SAARC aversion
This principled stand by India, however, doesn’t extend to other
organisations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), into
which India and Pakistan were inducted in 2017.
Unlike SAARC, which has never presumed to resolve bilateral issues of
its members, the SCO is a security-based regional organisation that is keen
to work on conflict resolution in the region; it even organises military
exercises between members.
It is difficult to reconcile the staunch opposition to attending a SAARC
summit where India is at least the largest country, with the acquiescence to
the SCO, where Russia and China take the lead.
Both Moscow and Beijing have made no secret of their desire to
facilitate talks between India and Pakistan, and it remains to be seen how
successful they will be when Mr. Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan
attend the SCO summit in Bishkek (June 13-14).
The SCO summit is hosted by rotation, and is likely to be in either
India or Pakistan next year, which would mean that Mr. Modi would either be
required host Mr. Khan, or the other way around, something the government
has refused to do at SAARC.
SAARC defunct Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA)
However, such agreements have not made progress in other groupings
either: the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) grouping has failed to
implement the MVA due to opposition from Bhutan, and India has held up for
years cross-border power-exchanges that would allow Bhutan and Nepal to
freely sell electricity to third countries such as Bangladesh.
India has rightfully held Pakistan responsible for holding up the South
Asia Free Trade Area agreement and refusing to reciprocate ‘Most Favoured
Nation’ (MFN) status to India.
After the Pulwama attack this February, India also withdrew MFN status
to Pakistan, but New Delhi must admit that in other regional groupings such
as the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), it too
is accused of stonewalling free trade regimes. In BIMSTEC, one can imagine
However, over time, India began to see the benefits of leading SAARC,
where neighbours became force multipliers for India’s power projections.
Some such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka even outstripped India on growth
and human development indicators, leading to more opportunities for
engagement with them.
In a region increasingly targeted by Chinese investment and loans, SAARC
could be a common platform to demand more sustainable alternatives for
development, or to oppose trade tariffs together, or to demand better terms
for South Asian labour around the world.
This potential has not yet been explored, nor will it be till SAARC is
allowed to progress naturally and the people of South Asia, who make up a
quarter of the world’s population, are enabled to fulfil their destiny
Q.1) Consider the following statements with reference to mass movements: 1. It involves transfer of rock debris down the slopes under the direct
influence of gravity.
2. They are more active over unweathered slopes rather than over weathered
Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
Q.1) What explains the deep resistance to SAARC in India?