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India wants Bay of Bengal to be ‘common security space’

India wants Bay of Bengal to be ‘common security space’ With most of the counter-terrorism initiatives within the SAARC stalled by Pakistan, India will seek to use the forthcoming summit of the Bay of Bengal nations in Nepal to step up regional cooperation against the menace.

New Delhi is likely to call for recognizing the Bay of Bengal as a “common security space” and nudge member nations to work out ways for developing “common responses” to challenges.

The BIMSTEC – a bloc comprising seven littoral and landlocked countries dependent on the Bay of Bengal for maritime purposes – will hold its fourth summit in Kathmandu on August 30 and 31. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will represent India and join leaders of the other BIMSTEC member nations – Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Myanmar and Thailand – at the summit.

Modi will also hold bilateral meetings with his host Nepalese Prime Minister, K P Sharma Oli, and leaders of the other BIMSTEC nations.

Sources in New Delhi said that the prime minister would call upon the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) nations to “recognize the Bay of Bengal as a common security space” and to “work out collective strategies for common responses”.

The military chiefs of the seven BIMSTEC nations will discuss “common responses” to security challenges in the Bay of Bengal region when they will meet on the sideline of a joint exercise, which the Indian Army will hold with the armed forces of the other member countries at Pune in Maharashtra, shortly after the summit in Kathmandu. The military drill will particularly focus on honing skills of the soldiers for counter-terrorism operations.

Modi’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had hosted his counterparts from the other BIMSTEC nations in New Delhi in March 2017. They also had another meeting in Dhaka in March this year. Both the meetings focused on working out common approaches to respond to “traditional and non-traditional security challenges”.

India has of late been keen on stepping up security and counter-terrorism initiative within the BIMSTEC, as moves for such regional cooperation within the SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation) could not proceed due to Pakistan’s reluctance.

New Delhi will use the BIMSTEC summit in Kathmandu to push for early ratification of the Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Trans-National Organized Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking and early implementation of the Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, a senior official told the DH.

The prime minister is also likely to call for early commencement of negotiations on the BIMSTEC Convention on Extradition, the official added.

The SAARC had also adopted a Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters in 2008. But the convention is yet to come into force as it is yet to be ratified by Pakistan.

Islamabad also blocked the establishment of the SAARC Terrorist Offences Monitoring Desk and the SAARC Drug Offences Monitoring Desk.

The BIMSTEC leaders are meeting in Kathmandu at a time when the new Pakistan Government led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan has reached out to New Delhi and renewed attempts to hold the 19th SAARC summit in Islamabad.

The 19th SAARC summit was scheduled to be hosted by Pakistan Government in Islamabad on November 9 and 10 in 2016. It was postponed after India decided to opt out, protesting against cross-border terrorism from the territory under control of Pakistan. It was after the attack on Indian Army camp at Uri in northern Kashmir in September 2016 that New Delhi decided against Modi’s visit to Islamabad for the SAARC summit to be hosted by Pakistan Government. The terrorists sneaked into India from territory under illegal occupation of Pakistan. They crossed the Line of Control and attacked the camp of the Indian Army, killing 19 soldiers.

Bhutan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh rallied behind India and wrote to Nepal – currently the chair of the bloc – that the regional situation was not conducive to hold the summit. The Maldives too joined the bandwagon later, thus forcing Pakistan Government to postpone the summit indefinitely.

New Delhi has since been trying to breathe fresh life into the BIMSTEC, which had started taking shape in 1997 but had remained dormant in the past 21 years. As Pakistan is not a member of the BIMSTEC and the organization comprises five of the eight members of the SAARC, India sought to work with the Bay of Bengal nations to push regional cooperation initiatives, which were stalled within the South Asian bloc.

Modi hosted a retreat of the BIMSTEC leaders in Goa in October 2016 on the sideline of the BRICS (a bloc comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit.

The forthcoming summit of the BIMSTEC in Kathmandu will see New Delhi arguing for urgent measures to counter and prevent the spread of terrorism, violent extremism and radicalization as well as to curb human, narcotics and arms trafficking.

The prime minister will call for stepping up cooperation and coordination among the law enforcement, intelligence and security organizations of the BIMSTEC nations. New Delhi will also stress on regional cooperation for capacity building for security organizations of the BIMSTEC nations.

Modi is likely to stress that the BIMSTEC member states should also work together to address non-traditional security threats, including in the domain of cybersecurity and in the maritime domain, sources said in New Delhi.

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