Making a paradigm shift in South Asia’s regional integration strategy
Complicated current situation: South Asian nations caught in a tug of war among themselves
- India-Pakistan rivalry, further complicated by China-Pakistan proximity and India-China hostility
- A new dimension has been added with souring of Pakistan-Bangladesh relations and the India-China tug of war over Bangladesh
If the big three (IPB- India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) can have a strategic partnership that also factors in China, the remaining five can effortlessly fit into positive regionalism with a win-win situation for all
- Increasing inward investment into IPB
- If Indian sensitivities can be addressed in CPEC, it can be a multilateral project, integrating India as well as other South Asian and Central Asian regions.
- Synergetic integration of the economic corridors with other BRI projects can accelerate inward investment into IPB
- Facilitating freight movement
- Due to cross-border barriers and lack of transport facilitation among IPB, freight movement is taking place along expensive routes, escalating investment cost
- The deep-pocketed Chinese can invest in land and rail infrastructure to develop both inter-regional connectivity and intra-regional connectivity
- China can lead in transport and transit agreements to facilitate smooth movement of freight and passenger vehicles across IPB resulting in integration with China and also South Asia.
- Energy sector cooperation
With greater electricity generation and utilisation of domestic energy endowments, combined efforts of BCIM (Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation), CPEC and the proposed China-Nepal-India (CNI) Economic Corridor under BRI, can capitalise on regional energy potential.
- Huge Potential for water sharing in future
- The three largest trans-boundary river basins, Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra, are all within CIPB
- This represents a huge potential for water-sharing and hydro power projects across the basins, but political mistrust is an impediment
- Water-sharing treaties with China
- China has expressed interest to pursue water- sharing treaties and the other three (IPB) affected can come together in a collaborative framework
- This can boost the livelihoods of millions across the region.
- Potential in internet penetration
- Higher broadband connectivity and Internet access can boost regional e-commerce
- Digital connectivity can act as the gateway to a holistic transformation of the region via the CIPB conduit.
- Promotion of tourism
- Inadequate, expensive and mediocre travelling facilities against the backdrop of pickpockets, burglary, and sexual assaults have resulted in tourists lacking interest in the region.
- Of China’s total outbound tourists, only 1% are to IPB.
- China unable to attract students
- China is unable to attract students from South Asia against the improved facilities provided by the U.S. and U.K
- Only 5% of outbound students of IPB go to China, compared to 22% to the U.S
Strategic collaboration needed
A strategic collaboration that rises to the occasion, looking beyond historical animosity and misgivings, can unlock a new era of regionalism whose benefits far outweigh negatives
Solving the jigsaw puzzle will need political statesmanship which will see friends and foes, living next to each other, knowing where to connect and when to disconnect.
Port mentioned: Ashuganj river port in Bangladesh
Dam: The Zangmu hydroelectricity dam, situated in the middle reaches of the Brahmaputra in tibet