Transport ministers of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and India have signed a Motor Vehicles Agreement to facilitate transportation of people and goods among the four SAARC member nations. Though a SAARC Motor Vehicle Agreement was approved during the Kathmandu summit in November 2014, it could not be signed because of reservations expressed by Pakistan. New Delhi has done well to ignore Pakistan and go ahead with a sub-regional agreement among BBIN that allows people as well as passenger and cargo vehicles to cross the borders of the signatory countries without any hassles. New Delhi must ensure the agreement is implemented with speed so that connectivity within the region contributes to the long-delayed development of India’s Northeast and also promotes Narendra Modi’s Act East policy.
It is obvious that the geographical proximity of the four nations has facilitated the agreement. Pakistan could have easily joined the four but for the perennial chip on its shoulders about India’s superior status conferred by the fact that the latter is now the fastest growing economy and makes up for more than 70 per cent of the SAARC’s area and population. If Pakistan had joined the BBIN group, its geographical contiguity would have brought it as well as Afghanistan within the fold. But, it is just as well that this hasn’t happened since such closeness would have enabled the terrorists of the Af-Pak region to move more freely across the borders. Sri Lanka and the Maldives will no doubt take a close look at the way the agreement signed by the BBIN group is working and consider coming on board if the benefits from the point of view of trade and tourism prove to be an attraction.
It is a given that friendly neighbourly relations help cement people-to-people ties and foster all-round prosperity by expanding commercial transactions. Many of the countries were under one ruler in their histories, whether it was the Af-Pak region and the rest of India except the tip of the peninsula under the Mauryas, or the territories stretching from Sri Lanka across India to Myanmar under the British. The SAARC is no more than an attempt to recreate the conditions of the past and the BBIN bid is a step in that direction.