After the pandemic, there is growing interest in the South Asian region which as a region is the fastest growing in the world.
However, while the South Asia is growing as a region there is no growth in regional cooperation.
This is while other blocks like the EU, ASEAN, etc. all move ahead and are doing well in terms of cooperation and ensuring mutual prosperity.
Earlier, this region had a SAARC as an entity but the enmity between India and Pakistan has ensured that this body is all dead but in name with no annual summit taking place for many years.
Instead two shifts have been taking place in the South Asian region. In its eastern side, there is cooperation between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal with increasing trade and energy exchange but on the Western side of Pakistan and Afghanistan there is nothing happening. They instead seem to be reliant on each other and increasingly China for their transport and trade.
It is ironical that a region with a mostly shared geography, history and culture and many other similarities is so disconnected.
Even in the eastern sector much more is possible in terms of trade. From the Bhutanese perspective, it would be good if West Bengal can stop levying its official ‘Gunda Tax’ on Bhutanese boulders going to Bangladesh disguised as the Suvidha app.
It would also be good if Bhutan can build and export power to Bangladesh instead of the initial enthusiasm and later stony silence from New Delhi on the Dorjilung Trilateral project.
Allowing 60 MW Basochu to sell power on the energy exchange is a welcome move but much more can be done.
It would be good if a power-hungry Sri Lanka in the future can choose to buy power from Bhutan or Nepal once it builds its power lines to India.
India comprises of 80% of the population of South Asia and 85% of its GDP and so has a special responsibility to be the magnet that ensure better connectivity in the region.
South Asia is facing some common challenges that none of us can solve alone.
All countries in the region have a youth bulge but none are able to provide the jobs they need, and thus all countries are seeing a massive brain drain.
We cannot solve the common problem of air pollution, human trafficking, security concerns, poverty, inflation, connectivity etc. without working together.
Alone we can do little: together we can do so much—Helen-Keller