online desk | 08 February 2018 | 2:29 pm
A Kathmandu-based think-tank has suggested Bangladesh and India pursue trilateral connectivity projects with Nepal for greater benefits of the region as the BBIN initiative becomes uncertain after Bhutan opted out.
“This trilateral cooperation represents a great opportunity to improve relations between Bangladesh, India and Nepal overcoming the low-ebb of bilateral relations,” Sunil KC, CEO of the Asian Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs (AIDIA) told bdnews24.com.
He was recently visiting Bangladesh when he discussed the potential benefits of the trilateral economic activities between close neighbours.
The BBIN, an acronym from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal, was conceived when SAARC at its 18th Summit in Kathmandu but failed to sign a Motor Vehicles Agreement in Nov 2014 due to Pakistan’s opposition.
Later, Bhutan opted out from the initiative as it could not manage the necessary parliamentary ratification to implement the Motor Vehicles Agreement due to domestic politics.
Bhutan had, however, conveyed that the other three countries should go ahead with the planned project to facilitate the seamless movement of vehicles within the region.
“Ultimately, the cooperation among these three countries will not only further deepen the economic ties and strong people-to-people contacts, but this can also play the vital role for sub-regional and regional cooperation,” Sunil said, urging all to promote the trilateral cooperation.
“The prime factor for promoting trilateral cooperation is to expand the cross-border connectivity among the states that will certainly stimulate the trade, tourism, investment, and people-to-people contacts,” he said.
“So it is essential to intensely examine the existing bilateral and regional connectivity including transit agreements and cross-border railways proposals”.
He said Nepal has unexploited hydroelectricity capacity and both Bangladesh and India have projections of around 35,000 MW and 255,000 MW electricity demand by 2030 respectively.
“Whereas, unfortunately, Nepal itself also facing the energy deficit. This scenario reflects the huge potential in energy cooperation.”
“In the meantime, India is already investing in some hydropower projects (Arun 3-900mw & Upper Karnali-900mw) while Bangladesh has also repeatedly spoken about its interest in investing and importing electricity from Nepal. So there is ample room for trilateral cooperation.”
He, however, said India has a greater role to play.
“One can’t forget that Nepal as a landlocked country depends on its neighbours to access to the sea for economic activities. If India provides the shortest access for Nepal to the global sea trades, Nepal is only separated from Bangladesh by 45 kilometres of Indian landmass, the Siliguri Corridor.
“The overwhelming dependence of Nepal on India for trade and transit has overshadowed Bangladesh’s significance for Nepal despite that the country has started to import goods via Chittagong port since 1999,” he said.
“If the Mongla port in Bangladesh represents an ideal alternative as it is even closer to Nepal, the current harbour infrastructures are not suitable.
“But India is investing in the existing and new Bangladeshi ports to connect its landlocked north-east part. Nepal will then benefit from these trade connectivity improvements in Bangladesh,” he said.
“Similarly, be it either in transport or energy connectivity, India’s cooperation is a must. In fact, if this potential trilateral cooperation can be exploited to its full potential, which can also be taken as the success of India’s ‘neighbourhood first policy.’”
“These economic initiatives would send positive political signs in a region that has historically seen rivalries between the different governments,” the CEO said, terming this as the “soft side” of this sub-regional cooperation.