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New thinking on "Look East" policy

Commerce Minister Jairam Ramesh said a "re-look" at Look East policy is needed, as the required focus on the region's infrastructure development remains absent in the old concept, reports Srinand Jha.

india Updated: Feb 11, 2007 22:54 IST

Networking cultural and travel corridors between Northeast India (NEI) and the larger Southeast Asian and Southwest China destinations and transforming the region into a green laboratory for high-tech biodiversity research are among fresh plans that the UPA Government is contemplating in pursuit of its renewed focus on the "Look East" policy.

A "re-look" at Look East policy is needed, as the required focus on the region's infrastructure development remains absent in the old concept, Commerce Minister Jairam Ramesh said.

Stemming from the recommendations of the Asian Dialogue Society (ADS) study entitled "Greater Asia Initiative", an entirely new spectrum of ideas and strategies for short and long-term objectives are being looked at by policy makers. These include suggestions for establishing a joint regional economic development council for packaging and promoting the power of regional togetherness and common identity.

Establishing a "regional knowledge cooperative" and promotion of "intersecting markets" are among the other suggestions of the study - submitted lately.

Coordinated by the Guwahati-based Centre for Northeast Studies and Policy Research  (C-NES), the ADA study deals in detail about tasks that need to be tackled for making possible the emergence of the "Greater Asia" concept. Major roadblocks, the study report says, includes the boundary dispute between India, China and Pakistan - besides issues such as India's inability to contain insurgency and poverty, low literacy rates and its depressing health scenario. 

"The Look East policy - a term in vogue since 1992 - needs to harmonise itself with the "Look West" policy of South Asian countries. Given the abysmal state of infrastructure facilities existing in the region, we have to be asking ourselves whether the SE Asian countries are actually interested in looking westwards to invest in North Eastern India," said C-NES Director Sanjoy Hazarika in a telephonic conversation from Guwahati.

Flattening the regional landscape by negotiating the intertwining realities of ethno nationalism and sub-regionalism in Northeast India is essential, the study report says. Strategic analyst Lt Col Anil Bhat (retd), however, believes that the foremost need is to counter the challenge posed by hard-core terrorist, criminal and ISI elements. None of the Indian Army's operations have been allowed to be completed and the ceasefires have brought more violence than peace, he said. 

KPS Gill - who has served stints as DGP of Assam and Punjab - promotes a converse view by stating that the Army's presence in the northeast in the last 17 years has worsened instead of having improved matters. “Gun is not the answer”, the former super cop said.

The Union Government lately announced the setting up of four new Land Customs Stations (LCS) in the Northeastern region at an estimated cost of Rs 200 crore for promoting trade with bordering countries including Myanmar, China and Bangladesh. The Akia port project (connecting Mizoram with Myanmar) has also been finalised and likely to be shortly announced. 

India, China and Southeast Asia together account for nearly half the world's population (47 per cent) and the three regions share favorable demographics as 55 per cent of the population are in the productive age group of 15-49 years. By contrast, Japan and Europe are ageing societies.