New Delhi, March 2:
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leaves for Myanmar capital Nai Pyi Taw Monday for the six-nation BIMSTEC meet on regional ties, in what could be his last foreign visit as prime minister, and also hold bilateral talks with its leadership.
Apart from engaging with his host, Myanmar President U. Thein Sein, Manmohan Singh is also set to parley with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the new Nepalese premier Sushil Koirala.
Besides these countries, Thailand and Bhutan are also part of BIMSTEC or the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation. The upcoming, two-day summit will be the third after those in Bangkok in 2004 and here in 2008.
The regional forum focuses on 14 key sectors of common development and concern such as agriculture, trade, investment, technology, energy, tourism, transport communication, environment, disaster management, health and counter-terrorism.
The leaders are also expected to give a political push to the delivery of a free trade pact among these six nations, which account for 1.3 billion people, or 21 percent of the world population, and a combined gross domestic product of $2.5 trillion.
The focus for New Delhi will equally be on the bilateral talks Manmohan Singh holds with the leadership of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal, officials said ahead of the visit.
Manmohan Singh’s meeting with Rajapaksa comes just ahead of a proposed US motion against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to chide Colombo for alleged war crimes against Tamils and seek a neutral international probe.
India is still firming up its stand on the issue.
“On how we are going to vote at Geneva, I would suggest you wait till the vote actually takes place. You are aware this is a fairly complex process,” India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh said, ahead of the prime ministers visit.
“We have to see the text of the resolution, we have to take several other factors into account, and then we will finally vote. So, I would not like to venture an answer to your question till we actually come to it.”
With Hasina, it will be the first meeting after the Bangladesh general elections last month. New Delhi had backed her government’s decision to hold polls even as other countries, notably the US, wanted a postponement, so did the opposition.
Manmohan Singh’s meeting with Koirala, their first, will be held a little under a month after the 74-year-old was chosen Nepal’s prime minister. It comes in the backdrop of the new leadership’s desire to see an Indian premier visit Kathmandu soon.
Despite the close physical proximity, no Indian prime minister has officially visited Nepal since I.K. Gujaral’s tour in 1997.
Manmohan Singh had already visited Myanmar in 2012 and followed President Sein’s state visit to India a year before that, which was his first overseas visit after he was elected to the high office.