Dhaka to get on to Asian highway

May 21st, 2009 - 11:59 am ICT by IANS  

Sheikh Hasina Dhaka, May 21 (IANS) Bangladesh is to sign the Asian Highway pact, shedding its suspicion that the route devised by a UN body would allow neighbouring India a transport ‘corridor’ to its northeastern region.
Discussions began Thursday as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has decided to change the official line set by the previous government of Khaleda Zia.

Bangladesh had failed to meet the deadline set by the UN for Dec 31, 2005, to sign the international pact for a highway that would connect Bulgaria in Europe to Bangkok in southeast Asia.

The Zia government had opposed the routes determined by United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) on the ground that India would get undue advantage. It had proposed alternative routes specifying that no route should be a thoroughfare for Indian goods.

The political directive to the Communications Ministry has come from Hasina’s office, New Age newspaper said Thursday.

“We don’t want to be isolated from the rest of the world,” it quoted the minister in charge, Abul Hossain as saying.

The present government will not miss the chance to join the highway network, the minister said prior to beginning consultations.

Dhaka wants to settle the issue before the upcoming meeting on the Asian Highway network Sep 4, 2009, in Bangkok.

“The country has no other option but to ratify the treaty as per the existing proposals,” said transport expert Rahmatullah.

Rahmatullah, a former director of the UN, told New Age that the plea for changes in the routes would be effective if the country ratifies the treaty in time.

There are three proposed routes. Two are main routes which connect India and Bangladesh. The third one - connecting India, Bangladesh and Myanmar - is described as a regional route.

The previous Bangladesh Nationalist Party-Jamaat government wanted the third one to be the main route as it would bolster the country’s much cherished ‘Look East Policy’ and expedite economic cooperation with Myanmar, China, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The BNP, now in opposition, believes that the ‘Look East Policy’ will not materialise if the existing proposal of the Asian Highway routes is accepted.

The UN ESCAP, however, insisted on ratification of the treaty before Bangladesh places proposals for any change of routes.

The Asian Highway network, which will stretch for 141,000 kilometres and cross 32 Asian countries after completion, is also linked with Europe. So far 28 Asian countries have ratified the agreement, according to UN ESCAP.

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