Friday, January 20, 2006

Asian Highway Through Bangladesh : The Role Of Myanmar

In my past article, I have discussed the implications of Bangladesh refusing transit to India. However, Bangladesh didn't totally objected the Asian Highway plan, but they want Asian Highway - 1 to be re-routed through Mynamer. In this article, I will discuss the feasability of that alternative plan.

Equation of Trade
Myanmar runs trade surplus against both Bangladesh and India. India is their second largest exporter and third largest business partner. US imposed a sanction on import and investment on Myanmar from 1997. Since then, China, India and the Asean became the major revenue earner for Myanmar. In this unipolar world, facing a US sanction, Myanmar therefore needs support from both India and China to survive.

Political Power
Myanmar is ruled by their Military 'junta' from 1962. Though the Army ruler Ne-win gave up power in 1988, the democracy never really came back to the country. As the nations Nobel winner leader Aung San Suu Ki remains arrested, the junta pile up money at the cost of common people. The junta are actively involved in several human rights abuse cases, most of them to suppress peoples' right.

Asian Highway and Myanmar
Given the above political and economical background, it is obvious that Myanmar will like to get linked to India, China and ASEAN countries through this Asian Highway. Next question is, what is about the link with Bangladesh?

The Asian Highway proposed route by Bangladesh runs through Tenkaf in Chittagong to Arakan province in Myanmar. Rakhine (Arakan) province has been troublesome for Yangon (Myanmar capital) for some years. It is reported that 40 percent of its population is Muslim, known as Rohingya, derived from "Rohang", ancient name of the Rakhine province. Hence, the route from Myanmar to Bangladesh was consistently objected to by Myanmar from late 70s during ESCAP meetings. The objection is believed to be for reasons of national security. It continues to remain the same. All is not well in that province because thousands of Rohingyas have occasionally fled from Myanmar and taken refuge in Bangladesh, first in 1978 and then in 1991 and in 1997. The net result - Myanmar does not agree on transnational route through Arakan province to Bangladesh and has been comfortable to re-route the Highway through India's northeastern states.

Geo-political reality
Bangladesh and India are neighbours. This geographical reality cannot be changed. Bangladesh has to develop a range and pattern of economic relations with India that will help Bangladesh to achieve a high rate of economic growth. Because of the economic size and strength of India, the distribution of gains from economic cooperation will not always be equal between the two countries. But the bottomline should be - whether Bangladesh has gains or not. Bangladesh may not compare its gains with that for India on each sector. To evaluate differential gains for each country is a challenge for Bangladesh policy makers. It is a delicate balancing act and does not correspond to a neat mathematical formula.

As I concluded earlier, Bangladesh government may seriously reconsider its position in respect of signing the Asian Highway network for long-term interest. The public have the right to know from the government how refusal to sign the Asian Highway agreement serves the national interest. Let there be a public debate on this important issue, if it does not take place in the Parliament.

Courtesy : The Daily Star

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