The Financial Express

Extending South Asian land connectivity

| Updated: April 02, 2021 22:01:50

--Representational image --Representational image

The golden jubilee of the country's independence has brought the world, more particularly most of the South Asian countries, closer. While the leaders of the leading nations the world over had words of appreciation for the country, the leaders of the more immediate neighbours visited it personally to express their solidarity and readiness to be its close allies. Even the leaders made good use of the twin occasions of Mujib centenary and the 50th anniversary of independence to reiterate their commitment to advancing the regional socio-economic interests. At a time of once-in-a-century crisis, the realisation has dawned on all that they must explore every avenue in order to collectively enhance their mutual benefits through greater cooperation. Sure enough greater trade and economic cooperation is the key to making this happen. To that end what figures most prominently is augmentation of connectivity with each other.

Admittedly, narrow politics, particularly the rivalry between India and Pakistan, has often stood in the way of forging a bloc like the European Union (EU). The ease of travel, business and exchange of knowledge relating to industries and technology have given the EU its strength and sustainability. Sadly, this has not happened in this region. Except the two island nations -- Sri Lanka and the Maldives -- other countries can easily develop robust land communications. Initiatives taken so far have not been quite free from regional politics. But the latest suggestion made by the army chief of Pakistan about the need for the two nuclear powers of South Asia to come out of the past in order to close the rank maybe worth mentioning. Even if it takes time to happen right now, the other contiguous countries can definitely build easy and smooth links with each other by road. The two island countries already enjoy the advantage of sea routes.

No wonder that Bangladesh has expressed its willingness to get connected with the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway Project. This will open a window to the country's east and connect it with the South-east Asian region. It proposes to be a multimodal connectivity well beyond the sub-regional confine. This has the potential to be connected with the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a reminiscent of the Silk Road of the past, which envisions land communication stretching from East Asia up to Europe. Geopolitics right at this moment, however, is not favourable for implementation of this massive infrastructure project with diplomatic row taking a turn for the worse between China and EU plus Britain. But ultimately, trade and economic interests may be the deciding factor in favour of an inclusive connectivity.

Currently though, Bangladesh should focus on developing road and railway link with Bhutan and Nepal. With India such links are already there and the recently inaugurated Dhaka-Jalpaiguri rail service will further facilitate people-to-people connection as well as transportation of goods. Now such road and rail links can be extended up to Bhutan and Nepal and this could be helpful for taking trade and tourism to a new level. Such direct links helped by relaxation of customs rules and reduction of duty can indeed prove decisive in speeding up South Asia's socio-economic progress.


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