In order to strengthen its regional ties in South Asia, India is getting more inclined towards BIMSTEC and BBIN distancing itself away from SAARC. Discuss the underlying reasons and possible implications.

Published: April 28, 2018

SAARC was formed in 1985. BIMSTEC has been in existence in various forms since 1997 while BBIN is a sub-grouping within the SAARC.
Reasons for India distancing SAARC

  • Indo-Pak rivalry: India-Pak rivalry has become a biggest impediment for the SAARC. This was even highlighted during the first edition of Raisina dialogue. The bilateral tensions have a spill over effect on the SAARC.
  • China’s attempt to enter: China is making inroads to the region of Indian Ocean which is traditionally India’s sphere of Influence. Active support from Pakistan and other member nations for China’s entry has made India wary.
  • Mistrust: SAARC is also facing huge issues of mistrust. This is prohibiting regional Integration. As a result, Sub-groupings like BBIN have emerged.
  • Regional Issues: Tussle between India and Srilanka on Kachatheevu Island, Political tussle between Pakistan and Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan has created rifts in the SAARC.

On the other side, Initiative of BIMSTEC offers India an advantage to augment its effort under Act east policy. BIMSTEC can act as a bridge between India and ASEAN. BBIN a subgrouping within SAARC aims to cater to the regional integration in south Asia and isolation of Pakistan.
Implications

  • Promoting regional integration by eliminating the rigidities due to tussle between India and Pakistan.
  • It aids in achieving the new found strategy of Indo-pacific.
  • India has a key role to play in Afghanistan. Sidelining of SAARC may undermine the possibility of gaining access to Afghanistan through Pakistan.
  • Undermining SAARC will reduce the avenues of dialogue between India and Pakistan as the political tensions has made the bilateral dialogue impossible.

As former PM Vajpayee has said friends can be changed but not neighbours, India cannot isolate from Pakistan as long term strategy. Either BBIN or BIMSTEC cannot be an alternative to SAARC. Pakistan must produce tangible results to eliminate the terror groups operating from its soil or else India and other members would continue to ignore SAARC.

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