India succeeded in getting the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Summit held in Kathmandu on August 30 and 31, to indirectly condemn Pakistan for its alleged role in promoting terrorism in India.
The issue came up strong mention but no country was named. The BIMSTEC Declaration expressly condemned State sponsored terrorism and called for collective steps to prevent this but did not mention Pakistan or any other State.
Maritime security, said to be threatened by China, was only indirectly alluded to under the rubric of the need for a “rule- based trading system and an equitable and transparent world order.” No country was identified as the rule breaker.
The omission of the mention of maritime security in explicit terms show the strong economic ties most BIMSTEC countries have with China.
The BIMSTEC Declaration said: “We affirm that the fight against terrorism should target not only terrorists, terror organizations and networks, but also identify and hold accountable States and non-State entities that organize, support or finance terrorism, provide sanctuaries to terrorists and terror groups and falsely extol their virtues.”
The allusion to Pakistan is clear here, though no State is named. India has been accusing Pakistan of sheltering terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad and extolling their virtues as liberators and social welfare organizations.
The Declaration reiterated BIMSTEC’s “strong commitment” to combating terrorism and called upon all countries to devise a comprehensive approach in this regard which would include preventing financing of terrorists and terrorist actions from territories under their control; blocking recruitment and cross border movement of terrorists; countering radicalization; countering the misuse of the internet for purposes of terrorism; and dismantling safe havens.”
The Declaration said that it is looking forward to the signing of the BIMSTEC agreement Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters and called upon member states to ratify it. It expressed satisfaction that many member States have ratified the BIMSTEC Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Transnational Organized Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking, and urged others to follow suit.
The organization resolved to hold a BIMSTEC Home Minister’s Conference and continue to hold the National Security Chiefs’ Conference. The next National Security Chiefs’ Conference will be held in Thailand in March 2019.
The Declaration expressed its commitment to working towards a BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement and urged the negotiating committees to finish their task “as early as possible”. It noted that there has been progress as regard to agreements on trade in goods and customs cooperation but added that work on easing the issuance of visas for the private sector needs to be speeded up. India has said that it will hold a BIMSTEC Start Up conclave in December 2018.
The Declaration noted that it has been decided to constitute an expert group on disaster management and climate change as the BIMSTEC is prone to natural disasters. There will be an expert group on energy cooperation also. Noting that there is an MoU on Grid Connection, the Declaration urged member countries to negotiate the details so that power is shared without difficulty.
Underling the importance of technology transfer, especially in the Small and Medium Enterprises Sector, the Declaration welcomed the decision to set up a BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility in Sri Lanka.
On Agriculture it was noted that Maynmar will host the first BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting on Agriculture in 2019 and that India has offered to hold a BIMSTEC Seminar on Climate Smart Farming Systems also in 2019.
Recognizing the importance of people to people interactions, the Declaration said that BIMSTEC should establish forums for various interest groups like artistes, journalists, educationists etc.
Recognizing the importance of Buddhism in the BIMSTEC region, the Declaration said that a Buddhist Circuit should be established. On promoting tourism it said that there should be cooperation in establishing a Buddhist circuit, a temple circuit, and an ancient sites circuit. Medical and eco-tourism also need to be developed it said. Nepal will hold a BIMSTEC tourism conclave in 2020.
Among the new ideas thrown up at the summit was the establishment of a group to develop “mountain economies” as some of the BIMSTEC countries are mountainous. On the need to improve the Blue Economy, the Declaration said that in their development ,the interest of the landlocked countries should be protected.
To give a definite shape to BIMSTEC in terms aims and goals, it was resolved to create a “BIMSTEC Charter” and also streamline the working of the organization as per the suggestions of Thailand.
The summit recognized the “valuable contribution” of the Sri Lankan diplomat and the first Secretary General of BIMSTEC, Sumith Nakandala, “in advancing the work of BIMSTEC” and welcomed the appointment of Shahidul Islam of Bangladesh as the Secretary General of BIMSTEC.
(The featured image at the top shows the heads of government of BIMSTEC states in Kathmandu on August 31, 2018)