Day 66 – Q.2 Evaluate the impact of regional groupings such as SAARC and BIMSTEC on India’s engagement with its neighbors and suggest ways to enhance their effectiveness.

  • IASbaba
  • February 1, 2023
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GS 2, International Relations, TLP-UPSC Mains Answer Writing
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Evaluate the impact of regional groupings such as SAARC and BIMSTEC on India’s engagement with its neighbors and suggest ways to enhance their effectiveness.

अपने पड़ोसियों के साथ भारत के जुड़ाव पर सार्क और बिम्सटेक जैसे क्षेत्रीय समूहों के प्रभाव का मूल्यांकन करें और उनकी प्रभावशीलता को बढ़ाने के तरीके सुझाएं।

Approach –

In  this question candidates need to write about impact of regional grouping such as SAARC and BIMSTEC on indias engagement with neighbour. In second part write about ways to enhance their effectiveness.


In Indian foreign policy there is continuous shift right from the time of the 1990’s as “Look-East Policy”,is converted  to the now “Act-East Policy”. Even now, with BIMSTEC being promoted.Both SAARC and BIMSTEC  has enormous impact on India’s  neighbourhood policy.


Importance of SAARC –

  • South Asia is important for India’s national interest: Because South Asia, that is India’s neighbourhood, is important for India’s national interests. This is best captured in the current government’s ‘neighbourhood first’ policy.
  • SAARC, a pan south Asia reach: SAARC is the only intergovernmental organization with a pan-South Asia reach. India can judiciously employ it to serve its interests in the entire region.
  • Weakened SAARC means heightened instability: A weakened SAARC also means heightened instability in other promising regional institutions such as the South Asian University (SAU), which is critical to buttressing India’s soft power in the region.

Importance of BIMSTEC for India-

  • India shifted its diplomatic energy from SAARC to BIMSTEC: In recent years, India seems to have moved its diplomatic energy away from SAARC to BIMSTEC. This resulted in BIMSTEC, after 25 years, finally adopting its Charter earlier this year.
  • BIMSTEC is better than SAAC charter: The BIMSTEC Charter is significantly better than the SAARC Charter. For instance, unlike the SAARC Charter, Article 6 of the BIMSTEC Charter talks about the ‘Admission of new members’ to the group. This paves the way for the admission of countries such as the Maldives.
  • However no flexible formula like ‘ASEAN Minus X’: Notwithstanding the improvements, the BIMSTEC Charter, to boost economic integration, does not contain the flexible participation scheme of the kind present in the ASEAN Charter.
  • This flexible scheme, also known as the ‘ASEAN Minus X’ formula, allows two or more ASEAN members to initiate negotiations for economic commitments. Thus, no country enjoys veto power to thwart economic integration between willing countries.
  • Obstructionist attitude of Pakistan within SAARC: Given the experience of SAARC, where Pakistan routinely vetoes several regional integration initiatives, it is surprising that BIMSTEC does not contain such a flexible participation scheme.
  • A flexible ‘BIMSTEC Minus X’ formula might have allowed India and Bangladesh or India and Thailand to conduct their ongoing bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations under the broader BIMSTEC umbrella.
  • This would have eventually strengthened BIMSTEC by enabling the gradual and incremental expansion of these binding commitments to other members. India should press for this amendment in the BIMSTEC Charter.

Ways to enhance effectiveness of SAARC and BIMSTEC –

  • It is also important to point out here that the SAARC shouldn’t only be confined to summit level meetings. SAARC is much beyond that.
  • Over the past 34 years, a whole range of mechanisms have evolved in areas such as agriculture, space research, remote sensing satellites (the South Asian satellite was launched by India recently).
  • A whole range of sectors have had mechanisms to promote a more integrated SAARC.
  • Even the establishment of the South Asian University is an example, where in the past ten years, the number of applications received have doubled. Thus, there are a whole range of mechanisms that together make up the idea of SAARC.
  • Within SAARC, it is only the summit level meetings that have not happened so far. Also, there have only been 18 SAARC summit level meetings in the past 34 years, thus it is not the first time that the summit meetings have been delayed (although this time, it has been inordinately delayed).
  • Also, it is important to note that Pakistan is not the only country that gets disconnected if India moves away from SAARC to BIMSTEC. Afghanistan is also a country that gets affected.
  • Also, BIMSTEC can never be SAARC. As a matter of fact, the foreign minister has himself said that we need to be far more generous to our neighbour (this opens the space for the possibility of some back-door channels between India and Pakistan as well).
  • So, BIMSTEC is not really an alternative to SAARC. As a matter of fact, the charter of BIMSTEC says that it is a bridge between SAARC and ASEAN.
  • The organic unity of South Asia that has evolved, and the entire process of ‘regionalization’ that has happened under the SAARC over the past 34 years, is much stronger compared to the work done under BIMSTEC.
  • BIMSTEC has had only 4 summit level meetings in about 22 years. Thus, the BIMSTEC is not meant to do what the SAARC is supposed to do. Also, it does not have the stature of what the SAARC is supposed to do.
  • The SAARC has its own relevance, but yes, there is a certain policy direction which one observes that India is giving towards putting the SAARC on hold on one hand and encouraging the potential of BIMSTEC on the other.
  • BIMSTEC should not end up as another SAARC: For this, its member countries should raise the stakes. A high-quality FTA offering deep economic integration, something that Prime Minister Narendra Modi also advocated at the last BIMSTEC ministerial meeting would be an ideal step.
  • India should try make the organizations flexible to ensure peace and prosperity in the region: Likewise, India should explore legal ways to move successful SAARC institutions such as SAU to BIMSTEC.
  • These steps will give stronger roots to BIMSTEC and enable erecting a new South Asian regional order based on incrementalism and flexibility, ushering in prosperity and peace in the region.


Since South Asia cannot repudiate regionalism, reviving SAARC by infusing political energy into it and updating its dated Charter will be an ideal way forward. However, in the current scenario, this is too idealistic. So, the next best scenario is to look at other regional instruments such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sect-oral, Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).

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