Bangkok, July 31: A rose by any other name would be a different flower. Names can include and exclude. They can even indicate intentions. That is what Bimstec did today. It rechristened itself as a Bay of Bengal community trading group.
The letters in Bimstec will no longer stand for Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand Economic Co-operation. It will instead be called Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Co-operation. In one stroke, this renaming of Bimstec has dashed the hopes of Pakistan to join the trade group as it has been trying to do.
However, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh denied that this was the intention of the group. “This is an initiative of countries along the Bay of Bengal. We are not working to isolate any country. Pakistan is not a Bay of Bengal country.”
Having successfully dashed Pakistani hopes, the member countries pledged that they would not allow “use of their territory by terrorist groups launching attacks on friendly governments”. Bimstec has also decided to set up a joint working group on counter-terrorism.
In his address to the summit meeting, Singh said geographical contiguity could be converted into “a community of prosperity and goodwill” through economic cooperation.
He also argued that mutual confidence could be enhanced by forging “a common front against terrorism, gunrunning, narcotics trafficking which, in varying degrees, affect us all”.
He warned that “the intolerance bred by religious extremism can divide societies and we neglect it at our own peril” and that everyone had to grapple with the scourge of terrorism “as a global phenomenon and as an everyday reality”.
The Prime Minister’s message could not have been lost on the summit leaders. Most countries in the region are on the international drug-trafficking and gun-running route. There are armed insurgencies running in India’s Northeast, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Insurgents and terrorists from one country hide in the other and what started as sub-national or revolutionary movements are tripping into terrorism.
But more than countering terrorism, Bimstec wants to promote economic interdependence and growth. So Singh spoke for everyone when he said: “Collective endeavours can be more than the sum of individual efforts.”
Singh singled out the trilateral India-Myanmar-Thailand highway proposal and the proposed Optical Fibre Telecommunication Link projects along the highway as of considerable importance to India. The highway will go from Moreh in Manipur to Maw Sot in Thailand through Bagan in Myanmar.
The Prime Minister then got down to concretising his ideas and listed the specific steps that India was willing to take in this direction. The Bimstec countries, Singh said, were rich in energy resources and there was a need to address the issue of their optimum utilisation. To give impetus to this effort, he proposed that India host a ministerial conference on energy cooperation in 2005.
Singh also announced that India would set up a Bimstec centre on weather and climate in New Delhi to pool scientific resources and benefit from weather forecasting. He offered to share Indian expertise in remote sensing for agriculture, environment and disaster management.
India, he announced, would host a Round Table and Workshop of Tourism Ministers of Bimstec with the participation of tour operators, hotel industry and others associated with tourism. The objective would be to “double tourism within Bimstec region in the next five years”.
The Prime Minister also took the opportunity of his address to announce 150 scholarships, in addition to the 150 already existing, for Bimstec students under a technical and economic cooperation programme. Thirty scholarships were announced for Bimstec students to study traditional systems of medicine.
Satisfied with the outcome of the summit, at the end of the day the Prime Minister said: “We have shown that we have the necessary political will to give a dynamic push to regional cooperation around the Bay of Bengal.”