A day after India extended an invite to all BIMSTEC nations (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), Kyrgyzstan and Mauritius for the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Council of Ministers on May 30, top government sources said it would be wrong to term the move as a snub to Pakistan.
Instead, the reasons for inviting BIMSTEC nations can be found in Modi’s speech in Kathmandu on August 30, 2018, the sources pointed out. While pushing for stronger economic integration in the Bay of Bengal, the prime minister had said, “This area of Bay of Bengal has a special significance for our development, security and progress. And, therefore, it is no surprise that the culmination of both India's ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’ happens in this region of the Bay of Bengal”.
BIMSTEC includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. This sub-regional grouping of countries in the Bay of Bengal Region came together on June 6, 1997, through the Bangkok declaration. Sources told CNBC TV18 that the invite shows India’s intent on strengthening this regional grouping rather than sidelining Pakistan. Like Pakistan, other South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) members such as Maldives and Afghanistan are also not invited.
According to India’s former ambassador to Pakistan TCA Raghavan, inviting BIMSTEC countries is a very good idea. “The message is that our maritime neighbourhood is as important as our continental neighbour. Bay of Bengal is important for India in its own right and should not be linked to Pakistan or China,” he says.
Anil Wadhwa, former Secretary East in the Ministry of External Affairs said, “Saarc has been stalled because of Pakistan and BIMSTEC is excellent for regional cooperation. It is also important for development in the North East as most members are in its vicinity”.
India had boycotted the Saarc summit in Islamabad in 2016 after a massive attack on an Indian army base in Uri led to the death of 18 soldiers, and other members followed suit in solidarity with India.
Indian officials have so far been mum on the possibility of a meeting between Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and PM Modi on the sidelines of the SCO Summit in Bishkek on June 13 and 14. Sources say that any discussion on such a meeting would take place only after the new government is sworn in. Diplomatic sources in Pakistan have said that Islamabad is keen on having a bilateral meeting between Modi and Khan to restore a sense of normality. So far neither side has sent a request for a meeting of any kind.
Any meeting with Imran Khan would be a political call that the new government would have to take but the possibility of a pull-aside in Bishkek cannot be ruled out. A source said: “We do not think that there would be a full-fledged bilateral meeting as that requires a lot of preparatory work. If it happens it may just be a courtesy call.”
Talking about the possibility of a meeting between Khan and Modi at the SCO Summit, Wadhwa said, “You cannot expect a full-fledged summit kind of meeting but there would definitely be an encounter and I suppose the stage would be set for a future interaction. India’s primary concern is that there should be a crackdown on terror and Pakistan will have to take serious action on that and then things can move forward”.