At last India and Pakistan, it
seems, have woken up to the need for genuine cooperation in South
Asia where countries of the region start depending on each other
for those crucial products which they now import from the West.
This way they will pay lower freights and at the same time
contribute to the economic growth of the region.
May be the first step in this direction came this week when New
Delhi and Islamabad agreed in principle to trade in electricity
through a specially-built high voltage direct current link between
Amritsar and Lahore. Right now the plan is to transfer 500 MW
through the Punjab border with the tariff linked to the market
If this kind of pragmatism spreads in the region, the region,
given its potential, can become a bigger market than China and the
whole of Europe and can also become self-reliant in a number of
products and services that they now import from the West. And the
West knows that, and may be that is why it does not encourage such
logical moves that may not serve their self-interest.
Hopefully, the agreement between India and Pakistan is just the
beginning. At at first glance, it seems each country has something
it can share with the others for which they go outside the region
to import. Just consider: rubber production in Sri Lanka, natural
gas in Bangladesh and, with all its waterfalls, Nepal's capacity
to produce hydro-electricity.
Let us take Sri Lanka first. It produces almost 150,000 tonnes of
rubber annually. This trend continues with Sri Lanka exporting
about 20 percent - 30 percent of the rubber production in raw form
while 70 percent-80 percent is used by domestic industries. So,
given the quantity and quality of the rubber produced in Sri
Lanka, they can even produce more quality tyres than the total
demand of the South Asian countries and then even export some.
If its tyre industry gets a boost from SAARC, or just India, it
can produce enough tyres itself and for the whole region. Then
countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh will not have
to import tyres from Western countries. They will also have to
spend less on freight due to the proximity of the supplier.
Bangladesh is among the fortunate to have a substantial volume of
natural gas resources. Part of it is discovered, and only part of
discovered resources has been proven. But the natural gas
situation in Bangladesh is a desperate situation because it is
letting its gas fields to hibernate. So it needs swift development
and production of natural gas in order not to allow it to
hibernate. SAARC countries can help Bangladesh do it and at the
same time produce fertiliser and also power in some sectors. Such
a pragmatic move can help Bangladesh in producing power and also
fertiliser to meet the demand of the whole region, eliminating the
need for importing fertiliser from the West by India, the biggest
importer of fertiliser in the region..
Power is also in shortage in Nepal that has a huge hydropower
potential. In fact, the perennial nature of Nepali rivers and the
steepness of the country's topography provide ideal conditions for
the development of some of the world's largest hydroelectric
projects there. According to some estimates, Nepal's hydropower
potential is more than 40,000 MW of which it has developed less
than 1,000 MW. Therefore, bulk of this economically feasible
generation has not been realised yet. SAARC countries can help
Nepal generate enough hydroelectricity for domestic consumption
and then also for export to neighbouring countries like Pakistan
So, if the SAARC countries begin looking beyond their noses, they
can prosper themselves and in the process make South Asia a
self-reliant region, perhaps to the envy of the West.
(Ravi M. Khanna is a longtime South Asia observer. He
has also headed the South Asia Desk in the Voice of America
Newsroom in Washington and published a book called "TV News
Writing Made Easy for Newcomers". He can be reached at