South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation programme, which is supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), has completed about 50 regional projects worth over US$11 billion.
Less successful, however, have been India’s inter-regional connectivity projects. To its west, India is supporting the International North-South Transport Corridor for moving freight between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Russia, Central Asia, and Europe by avoiding Pakistan.
There is also the India-Iran-Afghanistan Transit Corridor which focuses on the southern Iranian port of Chabahar, which is strategically located close to the China-operated Gwadar port in Pakistan. Progress on these projects has been slow because, under the pressure from the US which has imposed sanctions against Iran over the latter’s nuclear ambitions, India has dragged its feet.
In the east, India has four initiatives to enhance connectivity with ASEAN. The first is the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Corridor which is a sea-river-land hybrid corridor that seeks to improve India’s access to its North-East through Burma. Although initiated more than two decades ago, this project has yet to take off because of financing problems and hostility from the Arakan Army, a Burmese rebel group.
The Trilateral Highway project between India’s Northeast region, Burma’s Bagan and Thailand’s Mae Sot has also met a similar fate. The third is the Mekong-India Economic Corridor which aims to jumpstart India-Southeast Asia trade and investment linkages by connecting Chennai to Ho Chi Minh City through Dawei Port in Burma. This project has stalled after the project’s main contractor, Italthai Group, pulled out.
The only promising project is the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), between the BBIN countries, Sri Lanka, and two ASEAN countries (Thailand and Burma). The BIMSTEC Motor Vehicle Agreement is being negotiated and the BIMSTEC Master Plan on Transport Connectivity has been prepared.
Between two oceans, Editorial