Ms. Sayantani Sen Mazumdar

India’s notable presence in the global arena can be evidently discerned from its dynamic foreign policy orientation as well as from a number of enterprising collaborative ventures with other nations. In the early nineties the then Indian Prime Minister P.V.Narsimha Rao initiated a new chapter as the ‘Look-East Policy’ in Indian foreign policy paradigm. The Look-East Policy portrays a strategic shift in India’s vision of the world and India’s position in the rapidly developing global economy. Since the time of inception of the Policy India and ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) have embarked upon multiple bilateral, regional and sub-regional initiatives for the flourishing pursuit of the Policy. The Mekong-Ganga Cooperation Initiative is one of the momentous outcomes of such joint endeavours. Detailed Paper



By Ms. Sayantani Sen Mazumdar

The Look East Policy of India, framed by the Narasimha Rao government in the early nineties, is a substantial manifestation of India's focused foreign policy orientation towards South East Asia; an immensely resourceful and flourishing region. The economy of South East Asia is a virtually untapped market which is up for grabs by major regional economic entities such as India, China, Europe or the USA. India’s compatibility with the South East Asian countries with regard to better regional cooperation lies in the fact of its abstinence from exhibiting hegemonistic ambitions, making it more benign towards South East Asia. The camaraderie between India and South-East Asia is clearly visible through the dynamic persuasion of India’s Look-East Policy. India and ASEAN reciprocally have embarked upon a number of initiatives for rejuvenating their ties in multiple areas. Frequent tête-à-tête from both the sides promulgates better implementation of the Policy. The improving intensification of economic linkages with ASEAN has inspired India to enter into the second phase of its Look-East Policy. Phase 2 is the deviation from complete economic issues to the broader agenda involving security cooperation, actively constructing transport corridors and erecting pillars of linkages and connectivity. This phase of India’s Look-East Policy renders ample relevance to the development of its North-Eastern Region because of its geographical proximity to South-East Asia. The North-Eastern tip of India consisting of contiguous seven sister states- Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and the state of Sikkim - constitutes a unique narrow passageway connecting the Indian subcontinent to East and South-East Asia and acts as a crucial corridor for human migration between these areas. The North-East region because of its favourable geographic location, cradled by the Himalayas in the north , Bay of Bengal in the south and flanked by 5 Asian countries- Nepal, Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh, acts as a gateway to South-East Asia. There are ample possibilities for North-East India to reap benefits from India’s thriving relations with South East Asia as the process of globalisation provides the countries with the opportunities to grapple with cross-market accessibility and enabling them alleviate their poverty and economic backwardness. Detailed Paper



By Ms. Sreya Maitra

India's relations with the major powers and her neighbouring nations have been conditioned by the changing contours of the international environment. Military and domestic political necessities have also influenced the nature of the policy towards particular regions at different moments. The relations between India and the South East Asian nations can be explored in this context. The links between India and South East Asia have followed a non-linear course. While the need to combat colonialism induced a sense of solidarity among the nations in the early twentieth century, the East-West rivalry of the Cold War era made their political, security and economic interests divergent. The geo-strategic and economic realities of the post Cold War period have propelled India and South-East Asia to forge strong economic and security ties. The potential of India and South East Asian relations and cooperation is yet to be exploited fully but consistent initiatives have made most analysts and observers hopeful. The role of ASEAN and the Look East policy (Phases 1 and 2) initiative by the Indian government have been most crucial in this regard.
Situated in the Asian subcontinent, South-East Asian nations form the second ring of neighbouring states for India. As Stephen Cohen observes, India’s neighbours have neighbours and South-East Asian states (along with Africa, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf) form India’s extended neighbourhood.(1) Scholars opine that ‘India is no stranger to Southeast Asian states and to the regions beyond it, given her deep historical, cultural and maritime bonds with them.’(2)
After independence, India looked forward to carving a new role for herself in the Asian continent. South East Asia attracted India’s attention and saw its active involvement especially since colonialism had not disappeared from some parts of it. Prime Minister Nehru’s vision of a resurgent Asia and India’s critical engagement in reshaping its destiny was based on three assumptions, each of which foreshadowed the orientation in contemporary policies. First, Nehru asserted India’s geo-strategic centrality to Asia as it was situated at the meeting point of western, northern, and eastern and south eastern Asia. Secondly, its historical and cultural roots were deeply embedded into the larger evolution of Asia over the centuries. Thirdly, Nehru believed that the decolonized and newly independent countries of Asia would like to keep away from great power rivalries and conflict and also free themselves from the economic and political bondages of their respective ‘metropoles’.(3) According to Nehru if India worked on Asian solidarity and its expression through regionalism, institutionalization of cooperation and mutual understanding, then Asia could have a legitimate weight in world politics. In a similar vein, South East Asian states regarded India as a valuable friend in their struggle against their colonial masters.
During the 1950s, India wanted to focus its energy on development and thus, peaceful foreign relations were sought to be maintained with neighbours. But by the end of 1950s troubles brewed with Pakistan and China which unsettled India’s security calculations. The ascendance of the ravages of the Cold War and growing East-West rivalry, impinged upon India’s security considerations directly as the United States signed the rapprochement with China on the one hand, and began to provide huge military aid to Pakistan in the 1970s on the other.
At the domestic level, India veered to a policy of ‘import-substituting industrialization’ and the state controlled the ‘commanding heights of the economy’. Thus, the exigencies of the international and internal environment were such that India did not come much in contact with Southeast Asia. Neither was the region keen to seek India out. There were some perfunctory attempts to draw India into the ongoing security debates but nothing significant emerged out of the exercise.(4)
Meanwhile, realizing the benefits of a regional multilateral initiative, South East Asian nations decided to forge a South East Asian association. The establishment of ASEAN in 1968 and South East Asia’s vigour to promote regionalization were however, mismatched by India’s inward looking orientation. Moreover, India’s successful intervention in the Bangladesh crisis was regarded as an uncalled for interference in Pakistan’s affairs by ASEAN nations. India’s close ties with the Soviet Union perturbed the ASEAN nations, as did her warm relationship with Vietnam.(5)
In the post Cold War era scholars have opined that three factors shaped India’s overall policy in Asia during this time namely:

With the forces of globalization gaining momentum, India’s larger economic considerations facilitated regional cooperation.

Maintaining political stability in the neighbourhood was desirable for the overall preservation of democracy, pluralism and human rights.

The steady growth in the political profile of both China and the United States needed India to articulate policies which could help in the preservation of its strategic space in the subcontinent in relation to extra regional powers. (6)

Thus, the veering towards Southeast Asian nations at this juncture found a legitimate platform in India’s strategic thinking. The visits of Rajiv Gandhi to various capitals of the member countries of ASEAN were a landmark attempt to establish rapport with the Southeast Asian nations. Also, his visit to reengage China (December 1988) Japan and Australia was an indication that India was being driven to the East. The Look East Policy launched by India under the Prime Ministership of P. V. Narsimha Rao after 1991 was a vigorous response towards the extended neighbourhood in the East in the Post Cold War situation. (7)
Rising Security Concerns: In the wake of the 9/11 and especially after Southeast Asia was designated as the ‘second front of terrorism’, the security dimension has assumed tremendous importance in India-ASEAN relations. The Bali bombing of 2004 has particularly exposed the seamier side of the connection between international terror networks and their local outfits.(8) India and ASEAN states have explored the possibility of establishing joint working groups to combat this new threat. Indian leaders have been vocal about pressing for a more coordinated effort to tackle traditional and non-traditional security threats. These avenues of security cooperation based on evolving convergences which were properly enunciated in Phase II of the Look East policy (2003-04) were:

Maritime security, combating and containing terrorism and transnational crime,

Preventing the spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction, human trafficking and trafficking in small arms,

Confidence building, conflict prevention and resolution,

Energy and environment preservation,

Promotion of democracy, human rights, peace, development and disarmament.(9)

Prospects: The Southeast Asian nations and India are increasingly becoming aware and conscious of the imperative of interdependence Persistent efforts for economic and political engagements are bound to be supplemented by security ties. In the second phase of the Look East Policy, India has concentrated on expanding and reinforcing its earlier initiatives in building defense and security cooperation. This has added economic benefits too. Trade between India and ASEAN has multiplied fourfold — from $ 3.1 billion in 1991 to about $ 12 billion in 2002.(10) As of the late 1990s, 45% of India’s external trade was accounted for by Southeast Asia.(11) The Southeast Asian countries are engaged in massive defense modernization and thus form an attractive market for Indian products and services. In order to harness this market, India has to increase its expertise and involvement at the level of its diplomatic missions in the region and improve its bargaining and negotiating skills.(12)
China’s growing presence and influence in the region, economic and strategic makes diversified relationship with India necessary for Southeast Asia. With the US down-scaling its relations with the region, many believe that India will provide added stability and security to the region.
In the immediate future, India and ASEAN countries must intensify their cooperation both at the bilateral and regional levels to combat common threats to security that have the potential of shaking the very foundations of the polity. Since India's north-eastern region is being recognised as the 'corridor to South East Asia, integration with the traditional neighbouring regions like Myanmar, Bangladesh and Thailand should be facilitated through transportation networks and this would contribute to sustained peace and development.
It maybe stated therefore, that changing political, economic and security considerations condition the bilateral or multilateral policy ties of any country and India-Southeast Asia relations is no exception to this. The potential of the relations must be carefully cultivated by policymakers and strategists as Southeast Asia is likely to remain a viable foreign and security policy option for India in its quest to establish its geo-political and economic prowess in the years to come.


1. Stephen Cohen, India; Emerging Power, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2001, p 245.
2. P.V.Rao, ‘Sub-regional Strategies of Cooperation in ASEAN: The Indian Approach’, in ‘India and ASEAN; Foreign Policy Dimensions For the 21st Century’, K. Raja Reddy (ed.), New Centuries Publications 2005, Chapter 9, p 152.
3. S. D. Muni and C. Raja Mohan, ‘Emerging Asia; India’s Options’, International Studies, Volume 31 Number 4, Sage Publications, 2004, p 319.
4. Kripa Sridharan “ The ASEAN Region in India’s ‘Look East’ Policy” in India and ASEAN; Foreign Policy Dimensions For the 21st Century, K. Raja Reddy (ed.), New Centuries Publications 2005, Part I Chapter 7, p 118.
5. Kripa Sridharan “The ASEAN Region in India’s ‘Look East’ Policy” in ‘India and ASEAN; Foreign Policy Dimensions For the 21st Century’, K. Raja Reddy (ed.), New Centuries Publications 2005, Part I, Chapter 7, p 119
6. S. D. Muni and C. Raja Mohan, ‘Emerging Asia; India’s Options’, International Studies, Volume 31 Number 4, Sage Publications, 2004, pp 319-321.
7. Ibid
8. Kripa Sridharan “ The ASEAN Region in India’s ‘Look East’ Policy” in India and ASEAN; Foreign Policy Dimensions For the 21st Century, K. Raja Reddy (ed.), New Centuries Publications 2005, Part I, Chapter 7, p 130.
9. A.N Ram, ‘India’s Foreign Policy in the Asia-Pacific: Contemporary Issues, Area Studies: A Journal of International Studies and Analyses, Volume 1, Number 1, January 2001, p.23.
11. Ibid.
12. S. D. Muni and C. Raja Mohan, ‘Emerging Asia; India’s Options’, International Studies, Volume 31 Number 4, Sage Publications, 2004, p 323.



By Ms. Sayantani Sen Mazumdar

The emergence of India from a gloomy to a glowing position in the global arena, coupled with a number of virtues like enormous size, huge population, convenient geostrategic location, progressive military might, meteoric economic growth inspired various states including South-East Asian nations to devise collaborative ties with India. India, from 1990s onward, has started pursuing her Look-East Policy, which is being consolidated in the course of time. The Look-East Policy of India, enunciated by the then Prime Minister, Narsimha Rao, represents a strategic shift in India’s vision of the world and India’s position in the rapidly evolving global economy. The enduring proliferation of economic, political, cultural, historical, religious exchanges and people to people contact between India and South-East Asia structured the solid edifice for the successful pursuit of India’s Look-East Policy. Indo-ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) congruity wraps up regional, bilateral level engagement along with sub-regional initiatives for revitalization of their joint gestures. The genesis of BIMST-EC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) as an international organization can be discerned as an outcome of such an avid inclination of Indo-ASEAN nexus. Initiated in 1997 this regional grouping exhibits a distinctive characteristic in the sense that its membership amalgamates nations from both South and South-East Asia.

The littoral states of Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Srilanka and Thailand) collaborated to form the international organization- the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMST-EC). It made its initial exposure on the global arena with the name BIST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Srilanka, Thailand Economic Cooperation).At that time Myanmar was an observer but later joined the organization as a full member at a special ministerial meeting held in Bangkok, on 22nd Dec, 1997.Gradually the name was revised to BIMSTEC. In 2003 Nepal and Bhutan attained full membership of the organization.

Driven by the avowed intention of accelerating economic cooperation in the fields of investment, industry, technology, human resource development, agriculture and infrastructure BIMST-EC is principally oriented towards the proper and optimum utilization of the existing and the available resources combined with enormous unused potentials of the member countries. A cursory glance on the functioning of BIMST-EC portrays its acknowledged possession of adequate efficacy for assessing the challenges and opportunities of economic cooperation among the member countries and it endeavors to grapple them with skillfully and efficiently. BIMST-EC gained an outstanding breakthrough with the signing of a couple of agreements on certain crucial areas. The organization, which is largely seen as an alternative to SAARC, has identified six sectors of focused cooperation and for each sector a lead country has been designated. For India, Transport and Communication has been connoted. On manifold occasions India has been the major recipient of the fruits of the success of BIMST-EC. The trade between India and other BIMST-EC countries has been escalating on an impressive level. India and other BIMST-EC countries have often undertaken joint endeavors in tackling insurgency and extremism that geared up tensions in the north-eastern region of India. A number of overtures have been made by the BIMST-EC countries to boost up the infrastructure in this region through the development of highways and rail links. Though several FTA agreements and important projects have been underway between India and other BIMST-EC countries; it’s functioning, to a large extent, reveals impressive picture about its prospects. BIMSTEC, because of its palpable potential, contrives to outline a foremost position in India’s Foreign Policy arena.

BIMST-EC rests on shared and common interests and concerns among the member countries by paying heed on the complementarities of their economies. Having been well-equipped with its basic objectives BIMST-EC stepped forward as an international organization. The basic objectives of BIMST-EC can be identified as follows-

. By carefully labeling and implementing the specific cooperation projects in the fields of trade, investment, industry, technology, human resource development, tourism, agriculture, energy, infrastructure and transportation BIMST-EC opts for the creation of a healthy atmosphere for rapid economic development.

. To enhance the pace of economic growth and social progress in the sub region through collective cooperation, thereby rejuvenating the spirit of equality and partnership.

. To accelerate active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, technical and scientific areas with special emphasis on those matters that highlight common interests.

. The member countries should always undertake the initiative of offering the training and research facilities in the educational, professional and technological spheres with a motive of providing assistance to each other.

. The member states should participate more effectively in joint ventures leading to national development plans which will enable people to accrue a number of benefits for uplifting their living standards including employment generation and improving transportation and communication facilities.

. To maintain intimate and fruitful nexus with existing international and regional organizations which share similar aims and objectives.

. To deal with those projects that can reproduce immense benefits on a sub-regional basis among the BIMST-EC countries by incorporating the available potentials in its best possible way.

BIMST-EC has configured well-structured institutional set up for discharging its functions. In order to seek membership in BIMST-EC a country has to abide by some rules and norms. Countries longing to acquire membership need to satisfy the eligibility criteria meant for the purpose. They should conform to the conditions of territorial congruity to, or direct opening into, or primary dependence on the Bay of Bengal for trade and transportation purposes.

Motivated by the growing significance of the linkages of connectivity BIMST-EC members underscore the importance to create air, sea and land linkages among them. They include the open sky policy in BIMST-EC, development of the Tri-lateral Highway Project between Thai – Myanmar - India and Thai-Myanmar- Bangladesh, which will facilitate land transport from the Bay of Bengal to the South China Sea. In terms of sea transport there are the coastal shipping projects.

India has become the lead country of the Tourism Sector in BIMST-EC. There exists a proposed Plan of Action which suggests to establish the BIMST-EC Tourism Information Centre in India and to survey the plausibility of constituting a BIMST-EC Tourism Fund with financial assistance from each member country. Attention is directed towards a joint marketing plan and information to support intra-regional tourism. It targets to attract foreign tourists including Buddhist tourism, ecotourism and passable yacht cruising along Thailand-Myanmar-India. Such cooperation is liable to attract foreign currencies and also probes to boom regional employment.

The members of BIMST-EC are quite assured of the fact that the geographical location of their countries with substantial possession of natural and human resources serve as a profound basis for mutually beneficial cooperation. Actually the pluralistic nature with shared cultural heritage and existence of diverse arts, crafts, languages and traditions offer good scope for cooperation in all its multifarious dimensions. In order to experience towering social and economic development of the entire region the member countries are thereby, to evolve a sense of community among themselves. The regional and sub-regional economic cooperation organization such as BIMST-EC contributes to efforts towards global free and fair trade being pursued under the multilateral trading regime. The organization has drafted a plan for a free trade pact by 2017- while the three most advanced countries of the area (India, Srilanka and Thailand) are committed to trade liberalization by 2012.

BIMST-EC, evolved as an institutional mechanism to steer cooperation among the member countries and to reap the benefits out of it, is optimistic about the realization of its goals and has undertaken several overtures for the same. The conglomeration and energetic participation of the member countries tend to serve the much required ardor for the persistence of BIMST-EC as one of the foremost international organizations.