BIMSTEC Think Tanks Dialogue on Regional Security
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The first BIMSTEC Think Tanks Dialogue on Regional Security was held at the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) on 13-14 November 2018. Delegates from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka and BIMSTEC Secretariat participated in the meeting. The meeting was held in pursuance of the decision taken in the first and second meetings of the National Security Advisers of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) member states held on 21 March 2017 at New Delhi and 21 March 2018 at Dhaka respectively wherein dialogue of Think Tanks and strategic communities towards formalizing security cooperation in the BIMSTEC region was emphasized.

Ambassador Kanwal Sibal, Former Foreign Secretary, in his keynote address noted that from India’s perspective, there are no territorial or maritime disputes with other members of BIMSTEC. It has persistently sought to give a higher profile to BIMSTEC on the international platform. He also mooted the proposal to hold a BIMSTEC military exercise. Ambassador Pankaj Saran, Deputy National Security Adviser, Government of India, in his inaugural address underlined the need for cooperation amongst the security institutions of BIMSTEC Member States to deal with the common challenges of terrorism, radicalization, trans-national crimes, cyber security, climate change, and maritime security. He also emphasized that besides physical connectivity, there should also be connectivity between people, organizations and security agencies.

The first session dealt with the threat of terrorism, radicalization and response by BIMSTEC Countries. It was chaired by Lt. Gen Rameshwar Roy (Retd). The panelists were Ambassador Dr Shambhu Ram Simkhada (Nepal), Major General Md Abdur Rashid (Retd, Executive Director, Institute of Conflict, Law and Development Studies, Bangladesh), Ambassador Sumith Nakandala (Additional Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka) and Mr SM Sahai, Additional Secretary (National Security Council Secretariat, NSCS). Some of the salient points raised during the session were: BIMSTEC Member States must express necessary political will and determination, and pool their resources to meet these challenges. Also pending BIMSTEC Conventions should be finalized and ratified at the earliest to provide the legal framework for cooperation amongst BIMSTEC Member States.

The second session dealt with maritime security. It was chaired by Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha (Retd). The panelists were Admiral Jayanath Siri Kumara Colombage (Retd, Sri Lanka), Colonel Preeda Sataworn (Thailand), Barrister Shah Ali Farhad (Bangladesh), Ambassador Yogendra Kumar (India) and Captain Gurpreet Khurana (Executive Director, National Maritime Foundation, India). Some of the salient points raised during the session were: Maritime security is critical for promoting overall security in the Bay of Bengal region. Along with a rules-based maritime order, the role of the Blue Economy in the Bay of Bengal was also emphasized. Panelists also highlighted the need for a common maritime strategy.

The third session dealt with the issue of transnational crimes (involving arms smuggling, narcotics, human trafficking). It was chaired by Mr KC Verma, IPS (Retd). The panelists were Captain Pakorn Thongjeen (Thailand), Mr Bhaskar Koirala (Director, Nepal Institute of Strategic Studies), Mr Dasho Chewang Rinzin (Director Royal Institute for Governance & Strategic studies, RIGSS, Bhutan), Dr Kin Zaw Win (Director, Tampadipa Institute, Myanmar) and Mr PC Haldar (Policy Perspective Foundation, India). Strong concerns were expressed on the proliferation transnational crimes such as human trafficking, drugs abuse, cyber threats, climate change, arms smuggling, terror financing and money laundering in the Bay of Bengal region. The panelists also took note that developments in communication and information technology, especially social media has given a new dimension to the transnational crimes.
The fourth session dealt with the challenges associated with Disaster Management. It was chaired by Mr KM Singh IPS (Retd). The panelists were Dr. Ashique Rehman (Research Fellow, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies), Mr Bhaskar Koirala (Director, Nepal Institute of Strategic Studies), Ms Kanchana Wikramasinghe (Institute of Policy Studies, Sri Lanka) and Dr Naing Awe Oo (Executive Director, Thayninga Institute of Strategic Studies, Myanmar). Some of the salient points raised spoke of BIMSTEC Member States being most vulnerable to climate change than any other region in the world. The panelists deliberated on BIMSTEC’s preparedness and resilience towards disaster management and also emphasized the importance of disaster risk reduction. A major recommendation made was on renaming and converting the BIMSTEC Weather and Climate Centre (BCWC) at Noida, India into an R&D center named BIMSTEC Disaster Management & Climate Change Centre.

The fifth and final session focused on deliberating the way forward in the BIMSTEC security discourse. It was chaired by Dr. Arvind Gupta (Director, VIF). The panelists were the senior most members of the delegations of all the seven countries: Major General Md Abdur Rashid (Bangladesh), Mr Dasho Chewang Rinzin (Director RIGSS, Bhutan), Shri Hemant H Kotalwar (JS NSCS, India), Ms. Daw Aye Aye Mu (Myanmar), Ambassador Dr Shambhu Ram Simkhada (Nepal), Admiral Jayanath Siri Kumara Colombage (Sri Lanka) and Mr Apirat Sugondhabhirom (Thailand). It was emphasized that for stability, prosperity and growth in the Bay of Bengal region, security challenges must be addressed cohesively and therefore, there is need for continuous dialogue among the security agencies as well as among the Think Tanks in the region. Further, the capacity of BIMSTEC Secretariat should be strengthened to facilitate research on security issues.

All delegates, participants and attendees appreciated the initiative taken by the VIF to hold the first Think Tanks Dialogue on Regional Security. Suggestions were made to ensure continuity of the dialogue into a robust platform that would generate new and ore ideas for common action against common security risks, threats, and challenges in the BIMSTEC security space.

Event Date 
November 13, 2018

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