India's implicit call to action
Guest list to prime minister's swearing-in ceremony scheduled tomorrow constitutes India's neighbours, and while an occasion of welcoming Modi's successive term, it also projects the government's attempt to increase its strategic cooperation with the invited nations while opening avenues for development in the region. The 'obvious' glaring omission of Pakistan and the addition of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's Kyrgyzstan only hints at the precariously calibrated move by India on the diplomatic front. International relations have been a cornerstone of the Modi era and if that was not confirmed through his incessant foreign trips and interactions with global leaders, one can ascertain the fact through the choice of guests even before Modi's second run begins. The highlight shift in the guest list has been that from SAARC to BIMSTEC. Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation may not be a very popular international organisation but it remains a bridge India intends to use. Comprising of seven nations: Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, and Bhutan, the organisation may not have a big ambit such as that of SAARC but it remains a platform where India can make strides to strengthen regional cooperation without Pakistan. Modi's tenure is a perfect example of futile peace aspirations regarding Pakistan which was discussed as Pakistan's previous Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited to Modi's swearing-in ceremony back in 2014. Five years on, unfortunately, culminating with Pulwama carnage and the retaliatory airstrikes at Balakot have thoroughly kept Pakistan policy out of the fray and instead, motivated the successive dispensation to pursue other avenues which house untapped capacity in terms of regional cooperation and development. BIMSTEC, by convention, presents India with a power region of Bay of Bengal which possesses a combined gross domestic product of $3.5 trillion through its member nations. A prospective group without the nagging neighbour ought to benefit more and India's intent is to prove just that. Ever since China's Belt and Road Initiative engulfed South Asia, running through all SAARC nations except (mainland) India and Bhutan, India has been wary of China's audacious attempt to extend its reach to the Bay and the Indian Ocean. China's economic and infrastructure objectives have matured into debt traps for few nations and India acknowledges that firmly while financially rescuing the Maldives out of it. With China's increasing approach in the Bay of Bengal region, India's intent to consolidate the region and mutually benefit from progressive cooperation in this light is understandable. To this intent, the presence of BIMSTEC members in the oath-taking ceremony of the new government is perhaps a move to declare the 'neighbourhood' first and 'Act East' policy as India's underlying objective right from the onset. Also, what remains under-utilised in SAARC can be enthusiastically pursued with BIMSTEC. At least, that is what India opines with Pakistan's presence interrupting any strategic aspirations from materialising under SAARC. September 2018's BIMSTEC summit, only the fourth in 21 years, was India's first step to explore mutual cooperation in socio-economic matters with neighbours and without Pakistan. Uri and Pulwama are the boiling points but lack of cooperation from Pakistan has also urged the Indian dispensation to realise the futility and focus on more probable agendas – BIMSTEC and SCO, though not Pakistan. Kyrgyzstan becomes relevant here as the sole invitee from Central Asia, affiliated to a powerful organisation such as SCO and potential partner for advancing lucrative sectors of counter-terrorism and connectivity in Central Asia. With sectors such as blue economy and counter-terrorism already brought to the discourse in the fourth BIMSTEC summit held in Katmandu, India's renewed interest and endeavour in BIMSTEC showcases clear intention of development in the face of rising terrorism. Sri Lankan Easter carnage also serves as a reminder that South East Asia is not out of the Islamic State's radical hand and hence, efforts to counter and eradicate those from the very roots invariably remain a priority. Turning towards Pakistan for aid in this objective may not yield as much as it would with BIMSTEC.Discounting the benefits of economic development – opening up fast-trade corridors between BIMSTEC nations and easing norms with reduced or no tariff – which is perhaps the biggest takeaway from growing regional cooperation due to the international organisation, counter-terrorism remains an agenda in dire need of redressal. BIMSTEC also reserves a leading platform for India to assume the role of economic facilitator and aid its partner nations in their respective development projects to consolidate the Bay. This will help the group combat terror outfits with increased security-cooperation and boom in existing trade routes, widening the scope of development. This objective is similar to what China desires through its BRI; only less deceiving and invasive and more yielding in nature.