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Day 47 – Q 4.Even though the formation of BIMSTEC was a diplomatic masterstroke, the grouping hasn’t lived up to its true potential. Analyse.

4. Even though the formation of BIMSTEC was a diplomatic masterstroke, the grouping hasn’t lived up to its true potential. Analyse. 

भले ही बिम्सटेक का गठन एक राजनयिक मास्टरस्ट्रोक था, लेकिन यह समूह अपनी वास्तविक क्षमता के अनुरूप प्रदर्शन नहीं कर पाया है। विश्लेषण करें।


The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional grouping of seven countries i.e. Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand that lie in the littoral and adjacent regions of the Bay of Bengal. It came into existence on June 6, 1997, through the Bangkok Declaration.


The BIMSTEC region is home to around 1.5 billion people which constitute around 22% of the global population with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of 3.5 trillion economy.

BIMSTEC= SAARC- (Pakistan, Maldives and Afghanistan) + (Thailand and  Myanmar)

Why BIMSTEC was a diplomatic masterstroke:

  • Stagnation of SAARC limited both, the scope of India’s growing economic aspirations as well as the role it could play in improving regional governance.
  • At the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, in 2014, India proposed the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement. However, this could not progress due to resistance from Pakistan.
  • This compelled Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) to sign the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement in 2015.
  • Pakistan also opted out of the ambitious SAARC Satellite project proposed by India, leading to a change in its name to the South Asia Satellite.
  • Series of terrorist attacks on Indian defence establishments in Uri and Pathankot.
  • There is a tendency in some quarters to see India’s interests in BIMSTEC as part of its strategy to isolate Pakistan and position BIMSTEC as an alternative to SAARC. The above instances suggest otherwise.
  • The main motivation for India to push BIMSTEC is thus not Pakistan; rather, it is in the country’s interest to ensure that the region does not lag behind and that an unstable neighbourhood does not drag its growth.
  • India’s desire to link South Asia to the economically dynamic Southeast Asia is also part of this strategy.
  • The rationale behind making the BIMSTEC mechanism work is to reassure South Asia that the region can work together to achieve common goals with India playing its due role.

Role and working of BIMSTEC:

  • BIMSTEC enjoys good Regional Co-operation than SAARC which faced obstacles in the area of security cooperation. Example: cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
  • The member countries have generally cordial relationships, something patently missing among the SAARC countries.
  • The region has countries with the fastest-growing economies in the world. The combined GDP in the region is around US$3 trillion and will likely grow further.

A few challenges

There are challenges for India from both within and outside, because of which BIMSTEC hasn’t achieved its full potential :

  • Unsettled borders, refugee issues and ethnic tension among BIMSTEC member countries. 
  • Region lacks physical connectivity. The tri-lateral highway connecting India-Myanmar-Thailand hasn’t been started yet.
  • Overcoming weaknesses like project implementation in other countries as compared to China.
  • Infrequency of the BIMSTEC summits, the highest decision-making body of the organisation. In its 20 years of existence, the BIMSTEC summit has taken place only thrice.
  • Another issue would be for India to counter the impression that BIMSTEC is an India-dominated bloc, a problem that it faced for a long time in SAARC
  • Good relations between India & Pakistan will benefit both the countries. This would also mean Pakistan military losing its relevance.
  • Lack of political will has also limited the prospects of BIMSTEC. Countries like Thailand and Myanmar focus more on groups like ASEAN.
  • Growth of intra-regional investment is negligible.  The delay in the adoption of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), a framework that was agreed upon in 2004, fuels doubts about BIMSTEC’s efficacy.

Way forward

  • India will have to carefully navigate the emerging regional geopolitics, as many of the elements that made SAARC hostage to political rivalry and turned it into a defunct mechanism can re-emerge in BIMSTEC.
  • Today, most of the smaller neighbours are more willing to engage so as to benefit from India’s economic rise. Nonetheless, for internal political reasons, the same issue may re-emerge and pose hurdles in the progress of BIMSTEC.
  • India needs to show sensitivity to the concerns of smaller neighbours.
  • Leverage BIMSTEC as a bridge linking South and Southeast Asia.  
  • Learning from ASEAN and prioritizing economic connectivity, which is the prerequisite for regional integration.
  • Enhancing cooperation in disaster management, terrorism, maritime security and transnational crime. 
  • The members need to work collectively towards making BIMSTEC a stronger, more effective and result-oriented organisation for achieving a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable Bay of Bengal Region. 


The future of BIMSTEC stands in strong technical and economic cooperation. The focus and synergies in one direction will allow the group objectives to be fulfilled. If all countries work to focus, it will be at advantage to all countries and that should be the way forward

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