Home Contact Us  

Myanmar - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#4839, 23 February 2015
Sub-Regional Cooperation in South Asia: A New Lease of Life?
Saurabh Kaushik
Research Intern, IPCS

During the 18th SAARC Summit held in November 2014, Prime Minister Modi remarked that regional integration in South Asia would go ahead “through SAARC or outside it, among all of us or some of us.” It is evident that SAARC as a regional arrangement has been unable to act as a ‘consensus-building’ forum, largely due to the intractable nature of problems between India and Pakistan. With Modi indicating that an alternative could be forged by taking the initiative at the sub-regional level, it is imperative to analyse the reasons for the lack of progress in this regard. Also, what do the recent trends indicate? Is sub-regional cooperation gaining momentum in South Asia and does it hold promise?

It is obvious that bilateral relationships act both as the bedrock as well as a roadblock in achieving regional cooperation. The effort to engage simultaneously in addressing bilateral irritants and bringing about deeper economic cooperation has the potential to pave the way for sub-regional cooperation in South Asia.

There are multiple sub-regional forums in the region such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) and India Bangladesh Myanmar Sub-Regional Cooperation (IBM-SRC). Their failure in achieving any meaningful outcome or significant progress stems from a combination of domestic political, foreign policy, and economic factors.

Being the fulcrum of the sub-region and its window to Southeast Asia, IBM countries, i.e. India, Bangladesh and Myanmar occupy primary importance in the efforts to integrate the region. Therefore, it is important to throw some light on India-Bangladesh and Bangladesh-Myanmar bilateral relations and their changing dynamics in order to understand which way sub-regional cooperation in South Asia is headed.

The Myanmar-Bangladesh-India gas pipeline project proposed after the discovery of the Shwe gas fields in Myanmar’s Rakhine state failed to take off. This was because Bangladesh wanted India to reduce the huge bilateral trade deficit, allow transit to Nepal and Bhutan, and facilitate the sale of electricity from these countries to Bangladesh through Indian territory in exchange for providing transit for the pipeline. Domestic compulsions in both India and Bangladesh with regard to the settlement of the Teesta Water Sharing Agreement and Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) have further delayed their economic integration.

However, with a strong leadership at the helm in India and its resolve to reenergise the ‘Look East’ policy, things are starting to look up. PM Modi assured his Bangladeshi counterpart of a speedy resolution to LBA and Teesta waters dispute on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit. In fact, the bill to give effect to the India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) was approved by a parliamentary panel in December 2014, not even a month after the Summit. Among other things, the positive reception of the India-Bangladesh Maritime Arbitration Award announced in July 2014 on both sides also signals a reinvigorated push in the right direction.

In the case of the Bangladesh-Myanmar bilateral relationship, the Rohingya issue has been a significant challenge in the context of assuaging domestic political sentiments and has a direct bearing on foreign policy decisions. Yet, it would not be unwise to suggest that given the growing importance of the Bay of Bengal and the Indo-Pacific, both countries are well poised to intensify their cooperation. In fact, delinking the Rohingya issue and IBM-SRC to allow progress to be made on the latter could act as an incentive to resolve the former.  

There are also several economic and technical factors that have impeded sub-regional economic integration. Apart from tariffs, non-tariff barriers to trade such as export subsidies, prohibitions, quotas, import licensing, and custom procedures act as obstacles to intra-regional trade. Intra-regional trade in South Asia is a mere 5 per cent as compared to 58 per cent in the EU, 52 per cent in the NAFTA region, and 26 per cent in the ASEAN zone. The silver lining, however, is that India is playing a proactive role in revising its tariff and non-tariff regime vis-à-visits neighbours, especially Bangladesh, which should inspire some optimism.

Inadequate infrastructure and lack of border trade facilities on the ground are other major impediments that affect all countries in the region. The importance of these can be gauged by the fact that if the existing border infrastructure between Bangladesh and India’s Northeast is upgraded, trade volume can potentially go up by five to six times the current level.

Needless to say, there are serious roadblocks to enhanced cooperation, both political as well as economic. But it is worth considering some recent developments apart from those mentioned above. A total of 73 projects, including five in 2014, have been commissioned by the ADB, amounting to US$ 6.56 billion under SASEC.  There have already been meetings between Power and Transport Secretaries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) on Hydropower and Regional Road Transport Connectivity this year. A series of similar dialogues will be set in motion through the course of the year. There is good reason to be hopeful. Sub-regional cooperation may finally have gotten a new lease of life, and we will be witness to its promise.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Related Articles
PR Chari,
"Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus," 18 February 2015

Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 January  February
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.