Bangladesh should look for long-term benefits in allowing transit facilities to India and other neighboring countries, rather than eyeing short-term gains for economic development, an expert said.
“It's a major endeavour and it will help modernise Bangladesh over the longer term,” said Dr Sadiq Ahmed, vice chairman of think-tank Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh (PRI).
“Along with transit, traffic and people will come. Our whole country will be internally and regionally connected. Port services will be boosted. Tourism will pick up. So the multiplier effect of the transit is large,” he told The Daily Star in an exclusive interview.
India and Bangladesh have been discussing the issue of transit for long. The issue has revived of late, as New Delhi wants to reach out its eastern states through Bangladesh.
The issue of transit is supposed to be on top of the agenda when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Bangladesh next month.
The issue has apparently divided Bangladesh politically, as critics of transit think Bangladesh will lose more whereas India will achieve more.
But Ahmed said: “We should approach the issue of transit from the perspective of how it is helpful to Bangladesh. What India is getting is totally a different thing. There is ample evidence that Bangladesh will gain from transit. To me that is the critical issue. If India, or other neighbours, happens to gain more, then that should not be the reason to deny transit access. That is a negative approach.”
Ahmed is leading the economic analysis of a government team that is analysing various technical issues of transit, the economics of transit and how economic development is related to transit.
“As a citizen of a poor country, in my mind, this is all about modernising Bangladesh,” said Ahmed, who also taught economics at Dhaka University in 1974.
He said the government-sponsored committee working on the transit issue is a good one and is looking at transit as a multilateral issue, not a bilateral issue.
“Benefits will be maximised if we can include other countries. Even we have to look beyond the south Asian sub-region and include China and Myanmar. I would like to think of it as an instrument of development and open access to other countries. Similarly, Bangladesh must have access to India, Nepal and Bhutan. It must be a uniform policy.”
He said the background work done for the transit agreement for the sub-region of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal is quite substantial. “For the first time, the government is adopting a comprehensive approach. The technical team working on the transit issue is conducting a rich and detailed analysis. This work provides a strong analytical basis for conducting negotiations on the various transit related protocol agreements.”
Ahmed, who held several top positions in the World Bank before taking early retirement in 2009 to work on Bangladesh development issues, does not believe that there is any scope for political fallout if Bangladesh offers transit to India. “The whole concept that we are giving away our country to India is totally negative. Transit is a hugely important instrument for development of Bangladesh. It is similar to the export of services and not just to India but to other neighbours. ”
He said Bangladesh should not eye short-term gains out of transit. “We have to go for the long-term gains.”
“There should not be too much focus on only transit fees, as the tariff is only a small part of the whole picture. The real picture is much bigger. Transit will really be a tool for economic development. It helps us exploit our comparative advantages provided by nature in terms of open access to sea and as the gateway between South and East Asia.”