by Nadeem Qadir in Dhaka,
The Charter of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is in the offing and is set to be placed before the member states before its summit next year, according to the head of the organisation.
In an interview at the BIMSTEC headquarters in Dhaka, Secretary General Shahidul Islam told newsnextbd.com that “after two years of extensive exercise, the draft Charter was produced and was cleared for approval by the foreign secretaries of the member states earlier this month.”
“The charter text will be placed for approval at the 5th BIMSTEC Summit scheduled for January 2021 and it codifies the aims and purposes of the organization, its membership and decision-making process,” he added with a note, that BIMSTEC is gradually taking shape to deliver for which the members states first came together.
In order to bring back focus in BIMSTEC’s work, the foreign secretaries of the grouping recently rationalized the existing 14 sectors into 7 sectors: 1) Trade, Investment & Development, 2) Environment and Climate Change, 3) Security, 4) Agriculture and Food Security, 5) People-to-People Contact, 6) Science, technology & Innovation (STI), 7) Connectivity. The proposal will be placed before the next Ministerial meeting to be held in Colombo early January 2021, the secretary general explained.
BIMSTEC, founded in 1997 in Bangkok, groups Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka from South Asia and Thailand from South-East Asia with a total population of 1.5 billion people which is 21% of the world population and has a combined GDP of over US$ 2.5 trillion. Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand are the founding members while the others joined later.
Shahidul Islam, who leaves Bangladesh in December as the country’s new ambassador to the US and will be succeeded by a Bhutanese diplomat, pointed out that BIMSTEC’S “flexibility” got together members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN).
“It now has a well-established solid structure and since the secretariat was set up in Dhaka it slowly matured in many ways like it is now more focussed in its activities and the Charter will boost BIMSTEC,” he said.
The seven members states, he said would now lead seven areas of development and cooperation instead of the initial days when there was no clear modus operandi to achieve its goals.
“The member states when put together have very high untapped resources which will now be addressed for the welfare of the people of these seven countries,” said Islam.
When asked how it was doing during the current COVID 19 pandemic, the Secretary General said “the world is facing unprecedented challenges and BIMSTEC leaders have agreed to get over the adverse effects by leveraging regional cooperation.”
“The BIMSTEC has reached one stage but the next couple of years will be a crucial time for BIMSTEC to prove its efficacy as a regional platform by off-setting COVID-19 effect,” he cautioned.
Asked if BIMSTEC is the alternative to SAARC, which is potentially a dead organisation, the seasoned diplomat made it clear that, “BIMSTEC is not competing with SAARC, rather it is more importantly playing the role of a bridge between the two geographical regions.”
He added that there is “ample room for working in many areas by both the organisations.”
SAARC, headquartered in Kathmandu and groups Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka., has failed to hold its summit since 19th summit in Pakistan due to dispute mainly between India and Pakistan, while bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan remain cold for the last decade. India pulled out first, followed by six other member states.
Bangladesh is the former East Pakistan and became independent in 1971 after a nine-month bloody war. Dhaka wants Islamabad to formally apologise for the genocide during the war that left 3 million people dead.
Unless fulfilling that condition improving Dhaka-Islamabad ties remains a far cry under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government.