India to go ahead with South Asia road link plan without Pakistan
With Pakistan remaining noncommittal about a motor vehicles agreement connecting Saarc countries, India is firming up a slew of sub-regional and bilateral pacts on road connectivity.
India is likely to skip the Saarc regional transport officials meet to be held soon on account of it being unsure of Pakistan’s plan regarding the proposal connecting South Asian countries, sources told HT.
For long, the India-Pakistan tussle has come in the way of regional integration of the 8-member Saarc grouping, with Islamabad scuttling three connectivity-related agreements — an electricity grid, rail and road connectivity agreements — in last year’s summit in Nepal.
Saarc remains one of the least integrated groupings in the world, with intra-regional trade in goods accounting for just 5% of the total trade, compared with the 26% among ASEAN countries.
Sources said India cannot afford to wait until Pakistan decides to come on board. “Pakistan may join the connectivity plans when it feels like. That shouldn’t stop India’s plan on connectivity,” said a government official.
India is set to sign a multilateral agreement to roll-out the BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal) corridor in Thimpu on June 15.
“This would allow passenger as well as cargo vehicles to freely ply in the territory of other country. It’s in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda of regional economic cooperation through cross-border connectivity,” said a senior highways ministry official.
India has also fast-tracked a similar motor vehicle agreement with Thailand and Myanmar. The second meeting of these three countries will take place in Bengaluru on June 2-3, where the agreement, expected to be inked in near future, will be fine-tuned. Once signed, it would be integrated with the BBIN corridor.
India and Afghanistan have also agreed to sign a bilateral motor vehicle agreement in the next three months. Currently, India only has bilateral motor vehicle agreements with Nepal and Bangladesh, but a multilateral pact would go a long way in boosting trade in the region.