October 22, 2005


Bangladesh had long sought a land port with India for Bangladesh’s land exports to Nepal, Bhutan and northeastern Indian region. When the Banglabandha port in Panchagarh, the extreme North of Bangladesh was opened last year, people had high hopes.It is a 61 km corridor between Bangladesh & Nepal & 68 km corridor between Bangladesh & Bhutan. Bangladesh immediately opened an immigration office but India is yet to set up one at their end despite repeated requests from Nepal and Bangladesh.

The government of Nepal made a deal with India for transfer of goods from their bordering areas, although the provision of the treaty does not allow Nepalese trucks to enter the Bangladesh territory through the Indian border. So Nepali trucks have to unload imported goods inside the Indian territory. Afterwards, these goods are brought into the Bangladesh territory by the Bangladeshi trucks resulting in delays and increase in transportation cost. Nepal also sought extended transit time for at least four hours in place of the existing two hours.

Till now the non-cooperation of India and loopholes in the Dhaka-Kathmandu cross border trade agreement stand in the way of making the Banglabandha land port fully functional. According to India it is their burgain point to have a transit to its Eastern most states through Bangladesh.

Then came the issue of linking Bangladesh to the proposed Asian Highway connecting 32 Asian countries stretching from Tokyo to Ankara. The proposed AH-1 route (which most of the countries involved except Bangladesh agreed and signed) enters Bangladesh from India through Banglabandha (Panchagarh) to Tamabil (Sylhet). That means with this route India will be able to narrow down the link between its lands which are situated East and West of Bangladesh without having to bargain for it. Bangladesh has no advantage in this route as it will not be able to link to Mayanmar.

So Bangladesh government has taken a brave move in proposing the link via AH-41, which will enter Bangladesh from India through Benapole (Jessore) and into Burma through Teknaf the southeastern tip of the country. As a part of the country's 'Look East' policy, this route will go all the way to Bangkok which will provide Bangladesh with immense opportunities of trade between Thailand & Mayanmar.

But Bangladesh has up to December 31 to ratify the existing agreement and sign for joining the Asian highway. I doubt whether other countries concerned will be willing to accept this. Bangladesh is facing exclusion from this highway if they do not agree. As it turns out, the weak allways gets the small pie.

"There are two kinds of weakness, that which breaks and that which bends."


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