In 2015, several Asian leaders such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan to name a few met to sign agreements on various infrastructure projects. These projects aim to bring nations together, augment trade and facilitate mutual cooperation. Success of these projects may even lead to stronger diplomatic relationships between Asian countries. Here are 5 projects with an aim to connect Asia:
1. TURKMENISTAN-AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN-INDIA (TAPI) PIPELINE
After over 20 years of negotiations, the TAPI project was inaugurated on 13th December 2015, with the aim to export 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India each year. The 1,814 km natural gas pipeline will connect one of Central Asia’s largest energy suppliers to South Asia’s energy-hungry market. With the world’s fourth-largest gas reserves, Turkmenistan’s main natural gas markets were Europe and Russia. However, with the financial downturn in Europe, demand has fallen. TAPI capitalises on Turkmenistan’s pressing need to find new markets for its surplus gas and also fulfils the energy needs of severely energy-starved Pakistan and India. As the pipeline needs to pass through Afghanistan, it will attract investment to the war-torn nation, and contribute to the country’s overall development.
TAPI brings together India, Pakistan and Afghanistan (three countries that do not enjoy the most harmonious of relationships) by a shared need, which is vital to the development of each and can only be fulfilled by collaborative efforts.
2. IRAN – PAKISTAN GAS PIPELINE
The Iran–Pakistan gas pipeline, also known as the ‘Peace Pipeline’ is 2,775 km long and will deliver natural gas from Iran to Pakistan. Discussions to build a gas pipeline between the two Asian countries started in 1994 and subsequently, Iran made a proposal to extend the pipeline from Pakistan into India. Post 9/11, Pakistan began facing severe criticism from the U.S. over any kind of energy deal with Iran, as Iran was accused of providing weapons and aiding the 9/11 hijackers. To protect its relations with the U.S. , India withdrew from the project, whereas Pakistan continued the negotiations. In 2015, Iran signed a nuclear deal with the P5+1 group of world powers, which meant that the gas pipeline could finally take shape.
This project will help energy-hungry Pakistan and give Iran a market for its vast natural gas resources. It will also improve ties between Pakistan and Iran, who have been uneasy neighbours for decades as a result of Pakistan’s ties to Iran’s adversaries, Saudi Arabia and U.S. India was the big loser here as it viewed Iran as an ally against Pakistan, but now the project promises to improves their bilateral cooperation, with Iran likely to take a neutral position in India-Pakistan differences.
3. CHINA’S ONE BELT ONE ROAD (OBOR)
Also known as the ‘New Silk Road’, China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ is a 21st century adaptation of the historical Silk Route, but with two components, a land-based belt and a maritime Silk Road. With the aim to create renewed connectivity, both within Asia and between Asia and Europe, the OBOR project would connect 65 countries, 4.4 billion people and 40% of global GDP. Countries like Russia, Hungary, Iran, and Pakistan have already signed up for this plan. Countries with underdeveloped infrastructure, low investment rates, and low per-capita incomes could experience a boost in trade flows and benefit from infrastructure development. With this project, China will further integrate itself into the world economy and strengthen its influence in global political affairs.
4. INDIA – MYANMAR- THAILAND TRILATERAL HIGHWAY
The India–Myanmar–Thailand Trilateral Highway is a road that will connect Moreh, India to Mae Sot, Thailand. This project, a top priority for PM Modi’s government, represents a significant step in establishing connectivity between India and other South East Asian countries. Additionally, trade prospects of India, Myanmar and Thailand will improve as trade between these countries is currently only carried out through expensive sea routes.
With this project, India’s Northeast region will become a trading hub since it shares 96% of its border with other countries and only 4% with the rest of India. Since international sanctions have been lifted against Myanmar, Myanmar too has the opportunity to attract lucrative investments.
5. INDIA – BANGLADESH DEVELOPMENTS
PM Modi’s two-day state visit to Bangladesh in early 2015 improved the relationship between the two neighbours. The Indo-Bangladeshi relationship has witnessed ups and downs in bilateral relations over the years. Meanwhile, the China-Bangladesh friendship has strengthened in recent years. The Modi government improved this situation by lending $2 billion to Bangladesh and making power deals worth $5.5 billion between Bangladeshi and Indian companies.
Bangladesh has allowed transit to India’s northeastern provinces which means India can cut the time and cost to transport goods and supplies to its northeast significantly.
As these projects advance in 2016, it will be interesting to observe the evolution in Asia’s diplomatic ties.