Dhaka, Bangladesh
Connectivity in S Asia confronts crossroads

Connectivity in S Asia confronts crossroads

Asian Highway, TAR, SAARC, BBIN, BIMSTEC, BCIM, BRI stall or face headwinds

News Report

Some of the schemes appear to have long stalled, a few are dormant and the others moving past headwinds.

A few are purely about cross-border transportation connecting nations. The others are multimodal, encompassing economy, culture, diplomacy and so, besides communications.

The Asian Highway and the Trans-Asian Railway, both planned and promoted by an UN agency, look like forlorn dreams.

Route planning, project designing and procrastination have consumed decades.

There is no denying, analysts say, that a much-vaunted regional forum like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC lies in suspended animation for strained relations between two rival neighbours. Why the South Asian leaders couldn't get together for the forum's summit is best understood than explained.

Now, the odd man is out in the formation of a sub-regional grouping, avowdly for seamless road-transport connectivity through Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. Pakistan is left out from this alignment. The Maldives and Sri Lanka are not here as they are island nations not linked by road.

A much-orchestrated BBIN caravan stopped short of driving into Bhutan as the Himalayan kingdom in democratic transition virtually backed out by way of their parliament suspending ratification of the deal.

China's BRI is a bit hold-all type of mega-scheme binding all continents. A brainchild of President Xi Jinping, Belt and Road Initiative or BRI proposes the formation of one belt and building one road.

''It's, however, not merely all about road. Here 'road' implies connectivity by all routes--roadway, railway, airways and so,'' says one expert in this evolving mode of cooperation.

By broader definition, the BRI extends to building up economic, cultural, energy and people-to-people connectivity.

Such thoughts were collated in an international conference in Dhaka on how Bangladesh could get integrated with BRI and other groupings around.

BCIM, grouping Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar, is interlinked with the BRI. ''This one in a chain of bilateral, regional and multilateral arrangements under the flagship-project BRI couldn't make much headway,'' it was stated at the meet, arranged by CPD.

A few of the panelists were of the opinion that India is a major force in this region and BRI connectivity is difficult sans its active participation. But India appears to have taken exception to CPEC or China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through Kashmir.

One speaker mentioned that BRI corridor was supposed to pass from Kunming through Myanmar and India's north into Bangladesh. ''BRI halted in Myanmar pending India's consent,'' said Major-General (rtd) ANM Muniruzzaman.

''If India does not join BRI, China should channel BRI direct through Myanmar into Chittagong,'' he added.

However, some speakers pointed out that China would try to the last to have India engaged for a meaningful cooperation under BRI meant for fostering a new global order.

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