In his first public speech after his induction into the Union Cabinet, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Thursday clearly indicated that India was no longer interested in SAARC since it has been held hostage by Pakistan and would now devote its time and energy to promoting BIMSTEC, another regional grouping.
”SAARC has certain problems. Even if you were to put terrorism issue aside, there are connectivity and trade issues. We see energy, mindset and possibility in BIMSTEC,” he said inaugurating a seminar on ‘Changing World, Changing India’, organised by Ananta Centre.
His comments assume significance in the backdrop of a feeling in Indian circles that SAARC has failed to make much headway as a regional grouping because of Pakistan’s negative attitude towards all progressive initiatives, particularly connectivity. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited leaders of BIMSTEC nations to his swearing-in ceremony on 30 May to primarily cold-shoulder his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan. BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) brings together seven South and Southeast Asian nations: India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. Barring Myanmar and Thailand, all other countries are members of SAARC too.
Talking about economic cooperation with neighbouring countries, Jaishankar, a former foreign secretary, acknowledged that the main responsibility was on India since it was the largest economy in the region. ”In that sense, our growth can serve as a lifting tide for all our neighbours.” He also emphasised the need for incentivising cooperation in the neighbourhood.
He said connectivity in South Asia got considerable attention of the government in the last five years and it would remain the top priority of the Modi administration during its second term too.
Jaishankar said a majority of people in India believe that the country’s stature in the world had risen in the last five years under the leadership of Modi. The government has kept alive and perhaps even strengthened expectations of change in India.
He said the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections reflected the vote of confidence in the ability of the government to manage national security.
The world, he said, was witnessing a “global rebalancing”, of which the “sharpest manifestation is the rise of China and to an extent, the rise of India”.
Talking on the topic of ‘’Changing World, Changing India, Jaishankar said, “the changes are very sharp, very discontinuous, very much more complex than they have been in the past…the most obvious one is that globalisation is under stress.”
The foreign minister further opined that the second major change across the world was “growth of nationalism” and that it has been “validated electorally” in many places.
“At some level each is different in different parts of the world, but somewhere there is a message out there…the nationalism in Asia is the nationalism of confidence, the nationalism in other places is nationalism of insecurity,” he said.