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Thursday, July 23, 2015


Asian Highway One mired in muddy reality

Victor Mallet in Moreh, India
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An air-conditioner? A child’s Spider-Man costume? Chinese-made plastic flowers? A bag of dried fish or a bottle of French champagne? On a typical weekday morning scores of Indian shoppers are hunting for bargains just over the border in the Myanmar town of Namphalong. They can even pay in Indian rupees.
Dozens of porters, pushing handcarts or balancing cardboard boxes on their heads, walk steadily into Moreh on the Indian side of the frontier in the north-eastern state of Manipur, laden with mangos, onions and coconuts.

 

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IN India

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The retail trade on foot is vigorous enough, but it is all a long way from the Indian vision of turning Moreh into a modern commercial road and rail gateway to east Asia.
Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, has tried to inject new vigour into the plan by rebranding New Delhi’s old “Look East” policy as “Act East”. The winding, potholed road uphill from the Manipuri capital Imphal to the border with Myanmar has been labelled hopefully with green and white AH1 signs, denoting the theoretical Asian Highway One linking Istanbul to Tokyo via Kolkata and Bangkok.

Yet the slow pace of road and railway building, the prohibition of cross-border truck traffic, rebel insurgencies, the obstacle course of intrusive military checkpoints in India and the reluctance of the governments on either side of the frontier to embrace free trade has left locals sceptical about the future.

“Act East or Look East — it’s a bluff,” says Amar Yumnam, economics professor at Manipur University, who compares India unfavourably with China when it comes to the building of roads and railways for trading with its neighbours. He gives credit to Mr Modi for talking to India’s neighbours about investment and development, but says the message has yet to percolate down to the relevant bureaucrats.

“In 1994, a [Myanmar-India] border trade agreement was signed. The same day they signed a security agreement, and that agreement has been more prominent. In Moreh there’s no visibility of any kind of infrastructure . . . but you’ll face all the inconveniences related to security.”

Like Bangladesh, which now separates India’s north-eastern states from the rest of the subcontinent, India and Myanmar (then Burma) were both part of the British Raj. But mountainous terrain and half a century of military dictatorship in Myanmar from 1962 left the country largely cut off from its Indian neighbour to the west. Bilateral trade has recently increased to reach more than $2bn a year, but only about 1 per cent of that is by land.

“Indo-Myanmar trade is not up to the mark,” says Mahesh Singh, an Indian customs inspector at the Moreh border. “Only betel nut is imported, and in exchange wheat flour and bleach are exported — mainly these three items.”
With border trade restricted to a barter system — rather than money — for just 62 approved items, and exclusively for domestic products made either in Myanmar or India, it is no surprise that only about 30 truckloads of goods a month are officially crossing the frontier.

Asked whether Mr Modi’s “Act East” drive has galvanised trade, one surprised customs officer responds as he stamps more papers: “But that’s just government policy. We just do our work.
 Asian Highway? Where is the Asian Highway? They have been bluffing us for the past 40 years
- Amar Yumnam

The AH1 road linking Moreh to Imphal, Kohima and the rest of India is in any case hardly up to the task of becoming a major trade route. Militant groups routinely block main roads in India’s north-east, either for political protests or to extract illegal tolls, and locals say it costs Rs10,000 in protection money alone to bring a truckload of steel reinforcing bars from Guwahati in Assam to Imphal in Manipur.

A journey along the winding trail reveals a refrigerated truck that has missed a corner and ended up stuck front-first in the mud, several landslides, a single-lane bridge built by the British army in 1943 during the war against the Japanese, and a buffalo carcass being butchered on the road surface near Kohima.

“Asian Highway? Where is the Asian Highway?” asks Prof Yumnam. “They have been bluffing us for the past 40 years.”

 Comment:

 In very brief I would like to say all politicians of the Sub Continent know that till the political situations in all neighboring countries with each other is stabilizes and tangible trust and harmony ,prevails among them,

 Asian Highway would remain a  far distant sweet dream. 

Some small countries becoming over enthusiastic signed treaties in the hope of trade and commerce, might soon find out they are at this moment looser both politically and economically. 

Such treaty would disrupt the peace and tranquility of the eastern region when India would be able to  shift all types of armament over Bangladesh by force to fight the terrorist movement in east and north. 

It is then that politicians would learn what it is to be over enthusiastic with immature and lac of farsightedness in political matters..


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