Committed to PEOPLE'S RIGHT TO KNOW
Vol. 5 Num 552 Thu. December 15, 2005  
   
Letters to Editor


Asian Highway Bill


The government of Bangladesh is unnecessarily dragging its feet to sign and ratify the Asian Highway Treaty and have now put itself on the verge of excluding itself from this network. The highway will connect over 53 countries of Asia from the Mediterranean to the Korean peninsula and will possibly be the backbone of future trade and transportation in the entire continent and with Europe. But since the beginning, there have been reports of Bangladesh disagreeing with the network route and tried many times to change its alignment without success.

As it presently stands, the highway enters into Bangladesh from India and goes back into India. Bangladesh wanted to initiate a route that connects it with Southeast Asia as well going through Chittagong and Myanmar. But as it appears, none of our partners in that region, be it Myanmar or China, are interested. Bangladesh even offer to construct a section of the route in Myanmar that is in poor shape with its own funds. Myanmar is not even interested to renew the existing border trade deals with Bangladesh anymore. So what is our incentive of the new road if there is no use? But we seem to be following the 'Go East' policy like a holy citation though the 'East' is not interested. If Thailand and the Malay peninsula is our preferred destination, we have to realise that without the cooperation of Myanmar it is not possible.

The route that goes through Northeastern India can be used to transport goods to and from East Asia and we should be prepared to do just that. Leaving ourselves out of this network will only cause more damage to us. The policy makers in Bangladesh may be afraid of trusting India on this, but as our geography dictates, sooner or later the cross-border movement of goods and trade will be a reality and it would only harm us if we are not prepared for it. If we are reluctant to give India the transshipment facilities through our land - naturally they would be reluctant too to facilitate our trade with other countries through Indian territory. We have to reach some sort of balanced agreement on this at some point.

If we can persuade Myanmar in the future, and invest in the road-link wisely, countries like India, China, Thailand will be interested in using it for their own sake. That road may serve as a vital link between the ballooning giant economy of India and the East. So I urge the government to agree to the Asian Highway Bill immediately and start working for the Myanmar-Thailand link as a side project. In addition, we should prepare ourselves for increased land trade in the future with Nepal, India, Bhutan and countries in Asia. We will have to use Indian territory in most cases and we should be prepared to let our land be used by India for the same reason. We cannot escape geography - thus we should make the best use of it.