Narinjara news


1/6/2002
M Anwarul Haq

Highway from Dhaka to Bangkok and beyond

The new Dhaka-Yangon-Bangkok road connection will shorten the distance between Thailand and Bangladesh by at least 500 kilometres. While this road could open up a shorter and speedier linkage with two of our eastern neighbours, the original scheme of the Asian Highway passing through Sylhet can still go ahead which will link India and provide another connection for Bangladesh to China... Bangladesh must proceed with a strong political will to convince Myanmar about the new opportunities that both countries could take advantage of and immediately start working for opening the road to Bangkok.

Several foreign diplomats based in Dhaka not to mention the innumerable well-off, looking for a short break, fly to Bangkok more than once every month. If it is not for business, it is for pleasure and these travellers normally take their family members along.
Bangkok, once known as a place of pleasure and leisure, has for several years now emerged as a regional hub for business, trading and for multilateral diplomatic meets.

Still, to most of us the Thai capital requiring only two hours by air seems to be a distant destination. If one is travelling on normal fare, the ticket costs no less than Taka 20,000. When one moves with family, the fare seems highly prohibitive and trips become automatically restrictive.

But now comes the good news that efforts are on the anvil to weave the Bangladesh capital by road with the Thai capital passing through the port city of Chittagong, by way of Cox's Bazar with the world's longest sea beach, going right across the Naaf river into Yangon and then onwards to connect Bangkok. Once traffic arrives at Bangkok, it can move easily over the existing Asian Highway network by car onwards to Singapore and Malaysia.

If one is going in his automobile, after the proposed Dhaka-Bangkok roadway opens, one can drive himself or with his chauffeur and move with family at a more economic cost and enjoy all the exotic sights on the way if time permits. Besides, one would get the additional benefit of carrying a handsome amount of luggage in the baggage compartment of the car and not be restricted to a mere 20 or 22 kilos as in planes.
When the Dhaka-Bangkok route opens, it means more tourists, more travellers, more businessmen on the move. Overall it means increased economic activity for
Bangladesh and Myanmar not to mention Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore who are sometimes suffering from an overload of sorts.

According to an expert assessment, the Dhaka-Bangkok roadway has the potential to increase trade and investment two-fold within five years of its operation in all the three countries.

The planned Dhaka-Bangkok connection is proposed both as a part of the great Trans Asian Highway Plan and also independently as tri-nation action scheme.

While the Asian Highway has been on the cards for over three decades, intra-nation bickering among the South Asian countries has failed it to be operational except building of stretches of roads popularly called Asian Highway in some countries or the so-called Biswaroad in Bangladesh.

But it seems many countries in South Asia and South-east Asia are finally waking up to realize that it is better to have international road linkages rather than live in splendid isolation. They are recognising that linkages among national highways to create international artery of routes are now the most important aspect for development of trade, tourism and for attracting investment.
Two developments relating to the South-east Asian highway connection seemed to have happened in the space of the last one month. One plan includes
Bangladesh while the other according to sources excludes Bangladesh.
In one development, which has excluded
Bangladesh, foreign ministers of three countries...India, Myanmar and Thailand sat in a meeting in Yangon last April to link up a highway between the three countries.
The three foreign ministers decided to set up technical groups that would start work as early as possible to weave or link parts of the highway connecting
India, Myanmar and Thailand.
The three foreign ministers have even fixed a time-frame of "18 to 24 months" to develop the links.
It was told at the meeting that
India has built a road connecting six of the seven northeastern states to northern Myanmar, "which will continue on to central Burma, if construction could be finished in two years and everyone agreed."
India was represented at the meeting by its foreign minister Jaswant Singh. Thailand's foreign minister Surakiart and Myanmar's foreign minister Au Win Aung were present at the three-nation meeting. The Thai foreign minister even said that his country was willing to consider offering a loan to Myanmar to pay for the road construction.
While welcoming the transnational developments in the communications sector,
Dhaka has to seriously ponder as to what implications such a tri-national highway bypassing or totally ignoring Bangladesh could lead to in the immediate and distant future. The proposed highway, if it goes ahead, according to a new Indian plan, will not only bypass Bangladesh but proceed from Tamu in Myanmar through Imphal in India and go through Dispur and Siliguri onwards through Nepal to connect New Delhi. Earlier the Asian Highway was intended to connect Tamu, Imphal and Austogram in Sylhet. In 1995, the government opted for linking Sylhet, Tamabil, Dispur and Tamu.
The proposed India-Myanmar-Thailand highway would simply cast aside
Bangladesh to the wayside and perhaps push us more into isolation -- a strategy which was previously followed by neighbouring Myanmar but being rapidly discarded now. Yangon is now gradually planning to open its road network for transit and transnational highway connectivity.
Dhaka, without any further delay, must seize the opportunity to discuss with New Delhi any deviation in the original plan of the Asian Highway connecting Bangladesh and call for a correction.
However, what
Dhaka should at the same time pursue with eagerness and vigour is the second proposed route of the Asian Highway linking Bangladesh with Thailand through Myanmar at a convenient place a few kilometres up Teknaf across the Naaf.
Interestingly, the proposal to connect
Dhaka with Bangkok through Yangon came from the highest authorities in Thailand. Among others Thai Deputy Prime Minister Pitak Intrawittawant at a recent meeting with Bangladesh Commerce Minister Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury in Bangkok expressed keen interest in linking Dhaka with Thailand. The idea was further bolstered by a 30-member experts group meeting held from May 8 to 10 in Bangkok -- all participants of the greater Asian Highway scheme. Bangladesh delegation was represented by former director of EXCAP Dr Rahmatullah and two officials at the country's Bangkok embassy.The second routing proposal co-envisaged by Bangkok and Dhaka has been endorsed by the Yangon representative at the meeting.
Bangladesh Communications Minister Barrister Nazmul Huda is shortly expected to go to
Bangkok to meet his Myanmar counterpart to work out mutual details regarding the proposed Dhaka-Bangkok linkage through Yangon. The Myanmar authorities, according to sources, are already interested in getting connected with Teknaf, Chittagong and Dhaka.
Although
Bangladesh has good roads on its side, on some stretches inside Myanmar there is swampy terrain while some parts are hilly. However, the Myanmar authorities two years back constructed a ten feet wide road for several hundred kilometres which would now need some repairing. Some 30 kilometres missing road link to connect the Bangladesh side needs to be embarked upon.
Both
Dhaka and Yangon could work out plans jointly or with the assistance of an international consortium to spruce up the roadway inside Myanmar.
The new Dhaka-Yangon-Bangkok road connection will shorten the distance between
Thailand and Bangladesh by at least 500 kilometres. While this road could open up a shorter and speedier linkage with two of our eastern neighbours, the original scheme of the Asian Highway passing through Sylhet can still go ahead which will link India and provide another connection for Bangladesh to China.
Mentionably another window of opening would be the "North-South Economic Corrdior" also being considered by
Bangkok to connect Chittagong with Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province of southern China, Laos and northern Thailand.
Before anything
Bangladesh must proceed with full thrust and with a strong political will to convince Myanmar about the new opportunities that both countries could take advantage of and immediately start working for opening the road to Bangkok.

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