External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during the inaugural session of Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation Ministerial Meeting (BIMSTEC) emphasised the importance of this meeting and how it would help further India’s ‘neighbourhood first’ policy moving away from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
SAARC was considered the first and the ‘natural’ choice for India to enhance the cooperation in the region. In her keynote address the External Affairs Minister said, “BIMSTEC is a natural choice to fulfil our key foreign policy priorities of ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’.”
The problem in moving forward with SAARC has been Pakistan’s reluctance in rooting out terrorists that work against Indian and regional interests. India is now looking at BIMSTEC not only as a regional grouping to boost economic cooperation and connectivity but also to work in matters of peace and security.
Sushma Swaraj also spoke of the need to tackle ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ security challenges that threaten the region. She said, “We worked out collective strategies to counter the scourge of terrorism, violent extremism and trans-national crimes, as also to strengthen our maritime and cyber security cooperation. Specific follow-up measures in these areas are now under progress.”
The BIMSTEC forum also focussed on enhancing connectivity, employment generation, development, enabling soft infrastructure such as Framework Agreement on Transit, Trans-shipment and movement of Vehicular Traffic and the Agreement on Coastal Shipping, at the earliest.
She also focussed on cross border exchange of power and renewable energy saying, “Let us build a strong renewable energy partnership to tackle climate change together, for a greener world tomorrow.”
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is in Kathmandu, Nepal for the BIMSTEC ministerial meeting at a time when India is pushing for a larger role in the regional grouping.