Connectivity in South Asia
NNilova Roy Chaudhury
EW DELHI. There are various facets of connectivity—physical, sociocultural, political and economic. Most of South Asia (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) was historically part of one entity, with multiple levels of connectivity.
South Asia has emerged as one of the fastestgrowing regions in the world and is expected to play a dynamic role in shaping the ‘Asian Century’. The region has the world’s largest young working population and a significant number of middle-class consumers.
According to a recent World Bank South Asia Economic Focus, South Asia’s economic growth is forecasted to gradually accelerate from 7.1 per cent in 2016 to 7.3 per cent in 2017. It is likely to reach 7.4 per cent in 2018 and 7.5 per cent in 2019. It is estimated that South Asia needs to generate employment for more than 12 million people of working age every year.
For this to happen, countries of the region recognise the need to improve the state of connectivity both within their borders and with neighbouring countries.
Among the primary objectives of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) when it was founded in 1985 was to focus on physical connectivity—building transport infrastructure and transit facilities to enable trans-South Asian road and rail connectivity and, subsequently, trade.
India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, which prioritises regional cooperation, connectivity and people-topeople contacts, is based on the principle of collective efforts and inclusive growth in the entire SAARC region.
Connectivity is also a critical component of India’s ‘Look East’ and now ‘Act East’ policy. India’s northeast is the hub of this policy, from which linkages would spread through Bangladesh and beyond, southeastwards.
The Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), a premier think tank, organised a South Asia conference at the end of March on ‘Strengthening Connectivity in South Asia.’.
The view among a majority of speakers from India and across the region was that greater connectivity, if implemented efficiently, with proper investment in technology to generate and manage data about the movement of people and goods, would ease rather than increase any concerns of security managers.
The conference foregrounded issues that require greater attention, including sequencing, financing and measuring of connectivity efforts in South Asia.