ASIAN HIGHWAY: DILEMMA BETWEEN NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND SECURITY OF BANGLADESH
The Asian Highway project was conceived and planned by the United Nations Economic
and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) in 1959. It is one of the most
important and ambitious projects of UNESCAP undertake to increase trade and commerce in
the region. It envisions connecting two continents- Asia and Europe- in order to boost the overall
development of the countries of these continents. Most of the 32 countries involved have already
signed up for the project. Bangladesh has not joined the project due to disagreement on the ‘Route
Alignment’ connecting it to neighbouring countries. Bangladesh’s main concern is the likelihood of
providing transit facilities to India through its territory. Bangladesh’s proposal to realign the route connecting Yangon with Teknaf has not been accepted by UNESCAP due to Myanmar’s reluctance.
Due to the liberalized trade regime in the South Asian region and its locational advantage,
Bangladesh is likely to be immensely benefited economically by joining the network. The security
concerns expressed by different analysts relating to the network is not well-founded. The Protocol
of the Asian Highway Network does not automatically allow transit through any country. It allows
individual countries to take measures for their security concerns. Some of Bangladesh’s security
concerns related to transit may be taken care of by means of a temporary ‘Transit Transport
Framework Agreement’ with India. However, Bangladesh needs to improve its road transport and
port infrastructure before allowing international and regional traffic to pass through its territory.
To exploit the economic opportunities and development of the country, Bangladesh should join
the Asian Highway Network without any further delay. It should, of course, also take adequate
measures to address security concerns related to the project.
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