One might call it a “mini Saarc summit” as leaders of five out of the eight member states of the regional association gathered in Goa of India for BRICS-BIMSTEC outreach meet and voiced against terrorism and focused on connectivity.
“BIMSTEC has focused intensely on connectivity. Digital connectivity is of particular relevance where India will be happy to take a lead,” Indian foreign ministry in a tweet quoted the Indian prime minister as saying in the meeting of BIMSTEC leaders.
“Technology can bridge gaps and connect communities. It can also deliver services that make a difference in our daily lives,” said Modi as he chaired the meet.
Modi and some other leaders also spoke against terrorism with the Indian PM calling for a strong united stand against the “mothership of terrorism” in the South Asian region, in a thinly veiled reference to Pakistan.
India organised the outreach in its ongoing diplomatic blitz to isolate Islamabad in the international community after the September 18 Uri attack for which New Delhi blamed Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Out of the seven BIMSTEC countries, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka are members of Saarc. Two other members of BIMSTEC are Myanmar and Thailand.
Saarc also includes Afghanistan, the Maldives and Pakistan which are not in BIMSTEC. Of them, Afghanistan and the Maldives are known to have good ties with India.
After a brief meeting with BRICS leaders, BIMSTEC leaders sat in retreat conference and also discussed ways to strengthen the moribund regional grouping, according to reports of newspapers and agencies.
The two-day BRICS summit in Goa, a display of muscle by rising world powers such as China, Russia and India, drew much global attention with the presence of leaders like Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi.
But for South Asian countries, the outreach was significant for other reasons. It was planned by India in efforts to strengthen BIMSTEC to shift focus from almost dysfunctional Saarc. And the plan is aimed at creating a new grouping excluding Pakistan.
The Saarc summit was scheduled for November in Islamabad. But the Uri attack, in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed, escalated tension between two nuclear states — India and Pakistan.
Following the attack, New Delhi declined to attend Saarc summit in Islamabad in its diplomatic offensive to isolate Pakistan in global arena. Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan also came up with the same decision citing different reasons.
Bangladesh declined to attend the summit in Islamabad over Pakistan’s alleged involvement in cross-border crimes and interferences.
Their refusal led to postponement of Saarc summit for indefinite period.
Since then New Delhi moved to strengthen regional grouping without Pakistan and decided to activate BIMSTEC (the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), founded in 1997.
“By pulling out of the Saarc summit in Islamabad, the government is trying to achieve two ends: sending a tough message in the wake of the Uri attack, but also that it is going ahead with its plan for ‘Saarc minus Pakistan’ instead,” wrote The Hindu, an Indian English daily, on September 29.
As host of this year’s BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit, India, as is the practice, can invite neighbouring countries to join in for an outreach summit.
India opted for BIMSTEC outreach to keep Pakistan out of regional grouping.
“India had utilised the prerogative of the host as per BRICS rules to invite leaders of the BIMSTEC regional grouping for an outreach summit,” said Deccan Chronicle, an English daily of India, in a report on Friday.
The report said Narendra Modi on Friday described the outreach of BRICS to the regional grouping BIMSTEC as “significant”, triggering further speculation that India may be looking at BIMSTEC as an alternative to the dysfunctional Saarc which has been bogged down by Indo-Pak hostility.
At the outreach programme, Modi held separate meetings with leaders of BIMSTEC countries and assured them of working together.
VOCIES AGAINST TERRORISM
In the meeting with the BIMSTEC leaders, Modi launched a scathing attack on Pakistan. Without naming Pakistan, he said terror was its favourite child, escalating India’s diplomatic drive to isolate the neighbouring country.
“This country in India’s neighbourhood embraces and radiates terrorism. Terrorism has become its favourite child, and the child has come to define the character and nature of parent,” NDTV quoted Modi as saying.
NDTV reported that the Indian PM, emphasising on the message to isolate Pakistan, said, “Those who nurture the philosophy of terror must be sent a clear message to mend their ways or be isolated in the civilised world.”
Modi also said, according to AFP, “Tragically the mothership of terrorism is a country in India’s neighbourhood.”
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her address urged BIMSTEC leaders to find out the mentors, masterminds, abettors, financiers, arms suppliers and trainers of terrorists and extremists to defeat terrorism, reports UNB.
Addressing the outreach summit, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said peace and stability in the region is an important element for economic prosperity. “We strongly condemn terrorism in all forms.”
Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi said rising terrorism has become a source of common concern. “We need to stand together against all forms of violent extremism.”
She added, “We wholly sympathise with people of India with regard to terror attack in Uri not so long ago.”
FOCUS ON CONNECTIVITY
Indian PM Modi said BRICS and BIMSTEC have been shaped by different context and all nations together represent two-thirds of humanity.
He added that all the BRICS member nations are joined by common vision and peace, stability and development and are also united by similar challenges and concerns. He further said that convergence of purpose and priorities between BRICS and BIMSTEC provides a perfect opportunity for all the nations.
Hasina said time has come to seriously re-look at how BIMSTEC could be made more effective and result oriented one as well as to draw synergies with other groupings.
Strongly reacting to Modi’s remarks that Pakistan is the “mothership of terrorism”, Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz accused the Indian leader of “misleading” the BRICS countries over the issue.
“Modi is misleading his BRICS and BIMSTEC colleagues,” Aziz said.
He also alleged that the Indian leadership is “desperately trying to hide its brutalities” in Jammu and Kashmir, reports Times of India.