India's Focus Shift From SAARC to BIMSTEC Is Strategic, but Underused
Updated: Apr 23, 2022
While India has tactfully used the platform to diplomatically isolate Pakistan, it must also tap into BIMSTEC's immense potential for development, connectivity and trade in the region.
Leaders of the BIMSTEC countries attended Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony last Thursday. This is an opportunity for India to leverage the grouping for better regional economic integration, rather than merely as a diplomatic tool to isolate Pakistan.
BIMSTEC comprises India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. In other words, it is SAARC minus Pakistan and Afghanistan, plus Thailand and Myanmar. In 2014, Modi had invited leaders of the SAARC countries for his swearing-in ceremony.
However, since then, tensions between India and Pakistan have led to New Delhi shifting focus from SAARC to BIMSTEC. Since its formation in 1997, we have only witnessed BIMSTEC coming to life during periods of tensions between India and Pakistan. During Modi’s first term, India began focusing on BIMSTEC after a series of terrorist attacks on Indian defence establishments in Uri and Pathankot.