Erasing The Roadblock
The South Asian economies, viz. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives formed a multilateral cooperation forum, known as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), in 1985. These economies aimed at progress towards regional integration. Later in 2007, Afghanistan also became a member of the organisation. The development of regional cooperation is perceived as a paradigm shift from global interdependence to regional coherence. It has also helped in minimising the regional effects of global economic problems thereby playing a significant role in reshaping the global economic structure. In fact, the emergence of regional institutions, in general, has brought a structural change in the global political economy of cooperation and governance.
The region, having more than 43 per cent of Asia’s population and 24 per cent of the world’s population, needs greater economic integration with a goal to expedite the provision of better economic opportunities to its deprived population. Inefficient transport and trade facilitation is one of the deterrents to regional cooperation. Considering the importance of transport and trade facilitation as indispensable determinants for regional integration, the issue of regional connectivity was regarded as a decadal task by SAARC during its 17th annual ministerial meeting held in Maldives in November 2011.
South Asia represents one fourth of world population with low gross domestic product, low per capita and low literacy rate coupled with high birth and high death rates. It contains the largest number of the world’s hungry about 350 million people. It is affected by a number of problems–social, political and economic. Further, disparity between the rural and urban, poor and rich and violence (extremism, insurgency) have led to instability and insecurity in the region. No common external threat was perceived by the region. South Asian states are plagued by inter-state conflicts over boundaries. Absence of collective identity and lack of sense of belonging do still exist in the region and thus hinder South Asia from achieving the momentum to grow at its full potential.
South Asia inherited an integrated transport system from the British, but this was fractured not only by the partition but also by its political aftermath. It needs to be integrated again. Due to lack of integration of the transport system in South Asia, the logistic costs are very high and ranges between thirteen to fourteen per cent of GDP. Connectivity plays a significant role in combating poverty. If countries in South Asia continue growing at a seven per cent rate, the incidence of poverty would be reduced from fifty to twenty per cent. Currently South Asia represents only five per cent of trade. If transport network and infrastructure are improved, trade among the South Asian countries would be enhanced.
The contributors of book Connectivity and Integration in South Asia have focussed on the problems being faced by the South Asian countries and suggest amicable solutions to enhance economic cooperation amongst them. The volume tries to visualise a new South Asia free from conflicts, thereby improving the welfare of the people in the region. In a nutshell, this volume will help readers in understanding the greater challenges faced by these countries in progressing themselves.
By Nilabh Krishna