Bangladesh: Connectivity through BIMSTEC
Bangladesh earned appreciation for the country’s support for the BIMSTEC regional cooperation at the recent summit meeting of the organisation in Kathmandu. BIMSTEC, the acronym for the ‘Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation’, has been making slow but steady progress towards achieving its goals for the region.
The Kathmandu summit is considered a landmark, and resulted in many tangibles like the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the establishment of the BIMSTEC Energy Grid and an outcome document that outlined specific policy directions for strengthening the organisation and also about its future activities. The summit also highlighted the importance of the all members for the success of any regional cooperation arrangement of the kind. Bangladesh’s role is considered crucial.
Bangladesh is a country from which the Bay ascribes its name but it stands at the centre of the region that BIMSTEC covers. BIMSTEC is an organisation of the countries depended on the Bay of Bengal and is a bridge between South Asia with South-East Asia. Five of its members are from South Asia and two are from South-East Asia. The list comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
For the success of the BIMSTEC, the cooperation of Bangladesh will be important. BIMSTEC also provides the country an opportunity to be a leader because in the BIMSTEC Bangladesh stand to be a middle power. After India and Thailand, Bangladesh is the third most influential country, both in terms of population and economic capability. Thus, it can be a bridge between the bigger partners and the smaller once. The BIMSTEC places Bangladesh to be a major regional power.
Bangladesh is a founding-member of the BIMSTEC, since its inauguration in Bangkok in 1997. Originally, the organisation was named BISTEC (Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand Economic Cooperation). After Myanmar joined the organisation, it was named as BIMSTEC (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand Economic Cooperation).
Though the aim of the organisation has been to enhance the prosperity of the region through deepening economic cooperation in the region, its performance has been perceived to be below its potential. Bangladesh has been supportive of this cooperation. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had attended the third BIMSTEC summit in Myanmar’s Nay Phi Taw and also participated in the retreat of BIMSTEC leaders at Goa, India in 2016. The country is also the sectoral leader for trade and investment, and also climate change -- two important focus-areas of BIMSTEC.
Bangladesh hosts the permanent secretariat of BIMSTEC. Besides, the incumbent secretary-general of the organisation is from Bangladesh. The country hosted the second meeting of the National Security Advisors of the member countries earlier this year.
It is worth noting that Bangladesh had mooted the idea of the SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation), an organisation presently dormant and often perceived to be competing with BIMSTEC. Besides, Bangladesh has been a major advocate for the ‘Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN)’ sub-regional cooperation forum.
Gains from BIMSTEC for Bangladesh could be manifold. BIMSTEC could facilitate the nation’s dream of becoming a connectivity-hub and also help to sustain its economic growth, which might face some jolts as the country might lose privileges after its promotion to a middle income that the country presently enjoys as being least developed.
Also, BIMSTEC could help the nation to mitigate its growing need for energy through its initiative under BIMSTEC. The country could contribute to BIMSTEC by sharing its knowledge and expertise in dealing with challenges like poverty, climate change, terrorism and natural disaster.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi
Pakistan: Imran Khan’s foreign policy visions
Last month, Pakistan got the nation’s 22nd
Prime Minister, Imran Khan – a cricketer-turned- politician who is currently also the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, commonly known as PTI. With Pakistan finding itself in the midst of a changing international scenario, the foreign policy plans of the new prime minister have aroused much interest and invited world-wide contemplation.
Since its independence, Pakistan has faced many foreign policy challenges. Now, its former all-weather friend, US, has stopped aid for the nation not undertaking serious counter-terrorism measures within its borders. Islamabad’s erratic relation with its western neighbour Afghanistan continues to be a source of constant irritation, and perpetual tensions persist also with the geographically larger neighbour, India.
Known for his independent opinions and understanding of situations, it is being hoped in many quarters that perhaps the new prime minister is capable of formulating a clear line of foreign policy as regards these countries and also China, the rising Asian power, and its new all-weather friend. However, Imran Khan’s 70-minute television address after his oath taking ceremony proved to be rather a disappointment for those who had hoped to have some light on how Pakistan proposed to cultivate international ties in the coming years.
The address focused categorically on how the new prime minister proposed to meet his electoral promises by working on the country’s areas of internal concern. Remedying the system from within and curbing its many evils seemed to be the primary paradigm of Khan’s speech, which left many foreign policy enthusiasts deliberating upon whether the new prime minister required more time to determine his foreign policy preferences, or if he was as yet unsure of how much he wanted to show up before the public eye.
Taking brief look
However, even if in brief, Khan touched upon how he visualises his future foreign policy. At the very outset, he remarked that given the country’s slackening economy, it is important that it remedies ties with its neighbours.
Foremost he referred to China and acknowledged that it has given a “chance” for Pakistan’s economic elevation through the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor. He held the country as model for Pakistan to learn from if it has to free itself from the shackles of poverty.
As regards reconciliation with India, the presence of the former Indian cricketer and Imran Khan’s contemporary, Navjot Singh Sidhu, during the oath-taking ceremony seems agreeable as a first step. Though Khan regrets that a section of the Indian media has likened him to a “Bollywood villain”, he is willing to take conciliatory steps to resolve the Kashmir issue if the Indian government is also willing. He also expects to improve trade and commercial ties with India.
Khan also expressed his sympathy to the Afghan people and hoped to have open borders with the country. However, relations with Afghanistan are increasingly becoming more volatile with every passing day. It has returned to the familiar blame-game phase especially in the aftermath of the Taliban’s Ghazni attack, at a slight distance away from the capital city, Kabul.
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has alleged that the attackers involved in Ghazni hailed from Pakistan and were now being treated in its hospitals. However, as war seems to be a never-ending process in Afghanistan and peaceful negotiations seems to be the only viable option, both Kabul and Washington acknowledge that Pakistan has a pivotal role to play in this regard.
Ghani may be amenable to discussing border issues with Pakistan as well, if the latter plays a role to promote peace in Afghanistan. However Khan’s sympathetic stance with the Afghan Taliban’s is also known and may be a cause of concern in cultivating the relationship between the two governments.
As regards the nation’s relations with the US, Khan expressed his desire to have a more balanced relationship with USA rather than the “one-way” linkage which has been “harmful” for Pakistan in the past. However, despite US President Donald Trump’s strong criticism of Pakistan’s “double-game” on fighting terrorism and extremism, the US is still interested in maintaining ties with Pakistan.
This much American interest in Pakistan became clear by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent visit to Islamabad. Khan, however, has earlier conveyed the impression that he is a hardliner as far as the US is concerned. Also, given Pakistan’s growing intimacy with China, fostering relations with the US might prove to be difficult.
Message of peace
In the broader spectrum, despite the prime minister’s relative silence on his foreign policy, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s news conference soon after taking charge in Islamabad soothed the concerns of those who were looking for foreign policy indicators. He sent a message of peace to Afghanistan and India and markedly dispelled the impression that Pakistani foreign policy is a product of its military institution.
It must be kept in mind that for so long in Pakistan, governance style and structure has chiefly been characterised by the presence of a strong military establishment. Popular perception acknowledges that the country’s foreign policy has primarily remained subservient to this dominant institution. This has created an apprehension in some circles that perhaps Khan can successfully execute his independent ideas only as far as the establishment lets him.
The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata
Voice of caution
Speaking at a gathering to mark the ‘Week of Martyrs’, Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said that certain regional elements are attempting to disrupt Afghanistan’s relations with the world. Efforts are also being made to misuse the emotions of the Afghan people and reverse the gains which have been accomplished through major sacrifices. However he emphasised his complete confidence on the Afghan security forces and articulated that the time was ripe to establish peace in the country.
Taliban spy chief dead
According to the reports of the provincial government of Paktia in Afghanistan, seven key Taliban group members, including the spy chief for the south-eastern parts of the country, Zainatullah, popularly known as Farhad, have been killed. The insurgents were killed in an airstrike while they were travelling in a vehicle.
‘No assimilation’ of Rohingyas
Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said Bangladesh would not assimilate the Rohingyas who are staying in the country as refugees. Haque categorically said that Rohingyas belong to Myanmar and they will be in the refugee camps until they return to their country or are resettled in a third country. Haque made these comments on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on ASEAN in Hanoi. Around 700,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh since August last year to avoid persecution as Myanmar security forces came up heavily on the Rohingyas in retaliation to an attack by Rohingya insurgents on them.
Connectivity boost with India
India and Bangladesh this week inaugurated three major connectivity projects -- Agartala-Akhaura rail link, restoration of Kulaura-Shahbazpur section of Bangladesh Railways and 500 MW additional power supply from India to Bangladesh through Behrampore-Bheramara interconnection. Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina and her India counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in the inaugural through a video conferencing. During the event, Sheikh Hasina informed about her government’s intention of importing 9000 MW electricity from neighbouring countries by 2041. Power sector cooperation is an important aspect of bilateral relations. Bangladesh was importing 660 MW power from India and plans to increase to 3,000 megawatts.
National Assembly polls
All the preparations were completed for the primary round of the Third National Assembly Elections, which began on 15 September. A total of 438,663 registered voters are expected to cast their votes at 865 polling stations across the country to be manned by 3,000 polling officials according to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB).
About 102 Bhutanese trucks with their drivers were stranded in Banglabandha, Bangladesh since 31 August and re-entered the Indian border, Fulbari on September, due to problems related to labourers, according to Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA) officials.
24 babies infected in ICU
Nine deaths related to hospital-acquired infection between 23 July and 9 and 11 August deaths were confirmed at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit by the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu. Out of the 11 deaths, nine were because of Klebsiella pneumonia. Klebsiella is a superbug that causes a range of diseases.
Tripartite meeting with Afghanistan, Iran
India, Iran and Afghanistan held their first tripartite meeting on 11 September in Kabul during which implementation of the Chabahar port project and other issues, including ways to deepen counter-terror cooperation, were discussed. The meeting focused on consolidating economic cooperation, including Chabahar, as well as enhancing cooperation on counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and continuing support to the peace and reconciliation process led and owned by Afghanistan. There were discussions on US sanctions on the Sistan-Balochistan province of Iran’s southern coast, developed by India and Iran.
Missile tracking ship for sea trials
India’s first missile tracking ship, a force multiplier, would cruise the country into a global elite club. The Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL) is gearing up to undertake sea trials of India’s first missile tracking ship by October. This will be the first of its kind ocean surveillance ship being built as part of the efforts under the NDA government to strengthen the country’s strategic weapons programme. This would put India in the elite of club of a few countries that have such a sophisticated ocean surveillance ship.
MILEX from BIMSTEC
The MILEX-18 exercise, the first-ever military exercise of the regional grouping BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), was held from 10 to 16 September at the Aundh Military Station in Pune. It was aimed at helping BIMSTEC nations practise “planning and conduct of counter terrorist operations”. Nepal and Thailand backed out from sending full contingents. Nepal reasoned that their new Army Chief has just taken charge and had a large number of commitments. Thailand asserted its commitment to BIMSTEC, and explained that the lower level of participation was due to the ending fiscal year, and this exercise was an unforeseen event.
With the presidential polls only a week away, incumbent Abdulla Yameen and MDP’s Joint Opposition candidate Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih have launched a no-holds barred campaign across the nation, promising developmental projects for individual islands that they have visited, and also newer education and employment-related schemes, especially by the former. While the MDP-JO is confident that their ‘democracy’ campaign will provide them the cutting-edge votes, the Yameen camp hopes that his on-hand development projects would wipe out that edge, as well.
MoU with China
Chinese and Myanmese officials on 9 September officially signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the joint construction of the CMEC, according to a statement from China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The deal comes at a time when Myanmar faces tremendous economic hardship at home and mounting global pressure over ethnic conflicts in the country. The CMEC offers an ideal solution for the Southeast Asian nation to weather the daunting challenges and points to the growing popularity of China's win-win, no-strings-attached cooperation model under the B&R.
Exports cross $ 7-b
Myanmar’s export earnings from 1 April to 31 August, during the six-month mini-budget period prior to next fiscal year 2018-2019, exceeded US$7 billion, which is an increase of $1.57 billion, compared with the same period last FY, according to the Ministry of Commerce. The government sector’s exports were worth $1.65 billion, whereas the estimated value of private sector exports was $5.39 billion. The agriculture sector saw a significant decrease of $186 million. The forestry sector also experienced a slight decline in exports, while the other sectors increased their value of trade.
Two MoUs with India
The Embassy of India and the Rakhine State Government entered into two separate agreements on 13 September to facilitate capacity-building and economic development in Rakhine State. The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry and Minerals signed a MoU with the Embassy of India that will enable the latter to supply 15 tractors and 15 crawler harvesters to the State Government, meeting thereby a key need expressed by the Peasants Union in the State. The Department of Social Affairs of the State Government, meanwhile, signed a separate MoU that will enable the Embassy of India to provide 40 computers and their associated peripherals to the Sittwe Computer University.
Province- 5 releases ‘communications policy’
In order to encourage and further the role of media in Province 5, a draft of ‘communications policy, 2075’ has been released by the Internal Affairs and Law Ministry. The primary idea lies in establishing a free and responsible mass media that reflects the rights of the citizens to express themselves. It also promotes transparency and development in the human resource sector, thereby encouraging the same in the rest of the country as well.
‘Fairing’ better prices
The government of Nepal has planned to set up fair price shops, on the eve of festive season, in most parts of the country. Around three dozen outlets will sell various varieties of goods ranging from food to other basic necessities that would ease the budget of the locals. The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies has also planned to collaborate with the privately-owned shops and the general public would be informed accordingly.
Back reforms, bureaucracy told
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan recently addressed the civil servants in Islamabad, requesting their support as the government plunges in a “down-cycle” over the next two years and also support his unconventional reforms. Highlighting the several problems plaguing the country, he expressed his surprise that there had yet not been an outrage in the country. Khan seeks to restore the Pakistani bureaucracy to its former brilliance and transform the country into an attractive investment and tourist destination.
The Pakistan Foreign Office has rejected the joint Indo-US statement as unwarranted, which asks Pakistan not to allow its territory to be used against other countries and bringing to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack. This statement had been issued after the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defences James Mattis’s visit to New Delhi. The foreign Office spokesperson has claimed these allegations to be “baseless” and have conveyed their stance to the US.
President, Govt clash
The Government has locked horns with President Maithiripala Sirisena, this time over the CID obtaining a court order for the arrest of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, in connection with the ‘Navy Sampath missing persons case’ dating back to the war years. With Sirisena expressing reservations to holding serving military officers in police custody, at an emergency Cabinet meeting when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was away in Vietnam, the official spokesman said the police had no plans to take Adm Wijegunaratne, who is also the chief of the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) into custody.
Zabihullah Ghazi and Fahim Abed, “Bombing in Afghanistan Kills at Least 68 at Peaceful Protest”, The New York Times, 11 September 2018
Rod Nordland, “U.S. Aid Program Vowed to Help 75,000 Afghan Women. Watchdog Says It’s a Flop”, The New York Times, 13 September 2018
Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Hazaras under Targeted Attacks: An Issue Needed to be Investigated independently”, 13 September 2018
Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Education: At the Forefront of Efforts to Counter Terrorism”, 12 September 2018
Shah Husain Imam, “Pondering over the election”, The Daily Star, 14 September 2018
Adnan Morshed, “Living with and on water in Bangladesh”, The Daily Star, 11 September 2018
Kuensel, “Who should take the moral responsibility?”, 8 September 2018
Jyoti Malhotra, “As Nepal taunts India, Delhi loses another friendly neighbour”, The Hindu, 14 September 2018
Happymon Jacob, “Too close for comfort? On the India-U.S. 2+2 meeting”, The Hindu, 10 September 2018
- Raja Mohan, “Raja Mandala: Reconnecting with Europe”, The Indian Express, 14 September 2018
N Sathiya Moorthy, “US too threatens sanctions on Maldives, but Yameen remains firm”, www.orfonline.org, 14 September 2018
Bidhayak Das, “Naga Peace Deal - Will the Framework Agreement Hold?”, The Irrawaddy, 12 September 2018
Shambhu Ram Simkhada, “ASEAN, SAARC to BIMSTEC”, The Kathmandu Post, 12 September 2018
Kamal Dev Bhattarai, “Bungling on diplomacy”, Republica, 13 September 2018
Bishal Bhattarai, “Rethinking foreign employment”, Republica, 11 September 2018
The Kathmandu Post, “Tours and travels”, 11 September 2018
Republica, “Democracy dies when press is not free”, 13 September 2018
The Himalayan Times, “Lost currency?”, 6 September 2018
Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, “Condemned to succeed”, Dawn, 14 September 2018
I.A. Rehman, “No reason to stifle CSOs”, Dawn, 13 September 2018
Pakistan Times, “Imran Khan’s pie in the sky”, 14 September 2018
Pakistan Times, “Imran Khan and ISI”, 14 September 2018
Kumar David, “Deciphering Jana Bala Demo”, The Island, 16 September 2018
Rajan Philips, “Perpetually falling rupee”, The Island, 16 September 2018
Neville Ladduwahetty, “The 20th amendment”, The Island, 14 September 2018
N Sathiya Moorthy, “Has ‘Katchchativu case’ become infructuous now?”, www.orfonline.org, 14 September 2018
N Sathiya Moorthy, “Sirisenas and Wickremesinghes now need Rajapaksas even more”, Ceylon Today, 11 September 2018
Jehan Perera, “Three stories and the task of the Office of the Missing Persons”, The Island, 11 September 2018
Afghanistan & Pakistan:
Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee
Maldives & Sri Lanka:
N Sathiya Moorthy
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.