India accords highest priority to regional cooperation within the BIMSTEC framework which is consistent with the country's "neighbourhood first and Act East policy", Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre said Sunday.
Members of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) are in favour of regional cooperation to address security concerns amid the growing menace of terrorism across the globe, he said.
A week-long military field training exercise for seven member nations of BIMSTEC was held in Maharashtra's Pune district.
Contingents of India, Srilanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan took part in the exercise while Nepal and Thailand skipped it and sent their observers instead.
Bhamre was attending the concluding ceremony of the BIMSTEC multinational military exercise (MILEX) here.
Addressing contingents of the participating countries, he said India accords highest priority to regional cooperation within the BIMSTEC framework, consistent with the country's "neighbourhood first and Act East policy".
"Our leaders agreed to intensify the regional cooperation in key sectors of security, counter-terrorism, disaster management, connectivity and trade, agriculture and poverty elevation and people-to-people contact," he said.
The Act East policy is an effort by India to boost its influence through economic and strategic linkages with the neighbouring Southeast Asian sub-region.
It was originally conceived as an economic initiative, but has gained political, strategic and cultural dimensions including establishment of institutional mechanisms for dialogue and cooperation.
Noting that terrorism has shown its presence in every corner the world, Bhamre said BIMSTEC forum is aware of the ill-effects of this menace.
"MILEX 18 was a useful forum which provided the opportunity to discuss the issue from a military point of view with an endeavour to create synergy, better understanding and evolve as an institutionalised multi-lateral forum for regional cooperation in the field of counter-terrorism operations," he said.
Calling the exercise as a significant event, Bhamre said that with such activities, BIMSTEC has evolved as an effective multi-lateral forum.
"This reflects the growing desire among members for regional cooperation to address shared security concerns," he said.
Chief of the Army Staff General Bipin Rawat was also present on the occasion.