Dhaka finally decides to join Asian Highway

June 19th, 2009 - 3:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, June 19 (IANS) Bangladesh is readying to join the Asian Highway after years of prevarication when past regimes suggested routes that would ensure that India did not receive any transit facilities for its northeastern region, a media report here said Friday.
Trade policy advisor M. Rahmatullah told the Daily Star newspaper in an interview that Dhaka would need to talk to India and Myanmar after signing the United Nations - Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) project.

A former director (transport) of the UN-ESCAP, Rahmatullah said that some of the past regimes took decisions or refrained from deciding, not on how it would help Bangladesh, but on the basis of how it would impact on the neighbours.

“I heard some communications ministry top policymakers saying: ‘Since India has offered this route, it must have some deep interest in it, so we can’t go for it’,” said Rahmatullah.

The Asian Highway, an international network of 141,000 km of standard highways crisscrossing Asian countries with links to Europe, was conceived in 1959 with the aim of promoting regional cooperation among the mainland countries of Asia.

Dhaka had proposed the Tamabil route, for which Rahmatullah said he found “no logic”.

“Bangladesh chose the Tamabil route, about 600 km from Sylhet to Imphal in India. It was a suicidal decision,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

“This route passes through a mountainous region across four Indian states through which vehicles can move only slowly as the gradients are steep. Trucks with heavy loads will have difficulties in moving, fuel consumptions will be huge, making travel costly,” Rahmatullah said.

India had proposed Austragram in Sylhet to Karimnagar in Assam.

“There was no reason for choosing this (Tamabil) route since the alternative route through Austagram would have been shorter by around 200 km. But the then communications minister, as official record shows, chose the route without realising its adverse consequences,” Rahmatullah said.

He attributed the delay in Dhaka’s signing of the pact to “lack of understanding” of the project. Even its importance was not realiaed, he stressed.

He identified “the authorities’ negligence, their inability to understand the importance of the Asian Highway and lack of commitment to uphold the country’s interests as some of the reasons”.

The UN-Escap says a country must first sign the pact before suggesting changes in the routes.

Once it signs it, Dhaka would have to amend its earlier proposal of Tamabil route and propose any more routes.

Another possible route is through Chittagong-Gundum-Myanmar to Thailand.

Rahmatullah said Bangladesh would need to pursue the matter first with Myanmar “as the most concerned country. If Myanmar agrees, it should pursue the matter next with India, being the most effected country”.

“Once these two countries are agreeable to a direct Asian Highway link through Myanmar, with Thailand and southwest China (Yunnan Province), Bangladesh can bring in a proposal for amendment jointly with Myanmar, India and other linked countries provided it has fulfilled all other requirements as necessary under the agreement,” Rahmatullah said.

He said the agreement and transit are “two completely different issues”.

Article 15 (clause 3) of the agreement states: “Nothing in this agreement should be construed an acceptance of an obligation by any party to permit the movement of goods and passenger traffic across its territory.”

For movement of goods and passengers in the form of “transit”, there must be a separate agreement. Those who use “transit” as an excuse are ignorant about the Asian Highway and the agreement concerning transit movement, Rahmatullah said.

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