PM's last foreign visit to focus on neighbours

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to have bilateral meetings with his counterparts from the neighbouring countries in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar, early next month during what is likely to be his last foreign visit as the Head of the Government of India.

Singh is likely to travel to Naypyidaw to attend the third summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation or BIMSTEC, which is scheduled to take place from March 1 to 4 in the capital of Myanmar.

With parliamentary polls likely to take place in April-May, Singh’s visit to Myanmar may be his last to a foreign country before his 10-year-long tenure in the Prime Minister’s Office comes to its end. The BIMSTEC comprises Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Bhutan. The summit in Naypyidaw is expected to lead to significant headway towards the proposed BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement as well as moving towards greater land and maritime connectivity among the six nations.

The BIMSTEC summit is likely to give Singh opportunities to interact with his counterparts from the neighbouring countries. Sources told Deccan Herald that Singh might have bilateral meetings with like Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, President Thein Sein of Myanmar and newly-elected Prime Minister Sushil Koirala of Nepal. Singh and Hasina will review India-Bangladesh bilateral relations. Despite substantial progress in security and development cooperation between the two countries, Dhaka is upset as Singh’s Government in New Delhi failed to ratify the 1974 India-Bangladesh Land Boundary agreement and the additional protocol added to it in 2011.

To ratify the deal, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government introduced the Constitution (One Hundred and Nineteenth Amendment) Bill, 2013 in Rajya Sabha last December after much resistance from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, Trinamool Congress and Asom Gana Parishad. It is unlikely to be passed before the next parliamentary polls though. Dhaka is also upset as New Delhi failed to end the impasse over the negotiation on the agreement to share water of the river Teesta – a deal, which could not be inked due to strong opposition from TMC leader Mamata Banerjee.

New Delhi, however, was quick to endorse the outcome of Bangladesh’s recent controversial elections, which gave Hasina-led Awami League another term in power in Dhaka.

Singh’s meeting with Rajapaksa will be the first between the two leaders after he turned down Sri Lankan President’s invitation to travel to Colombo for the Commonwealth Head of Government’s Meet last November.

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