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South Asia: Connectivity connecting diplomacy

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The role of connectivity is immense. It cannot be undermined in phase of development. It is one of the basic prerequisite of imbu- ing a sense of nationalism and sustaining socioeconomic integration. The spirit of connectivity cuts across parochial tendencies and imparts a sense of belonging. It intertwines the fate of every locality into a single mainstream. In the era of globalization and information technology, the objectivity of connectivity has to be heavily applied in the realms of diplomacy also. The existing trends indicate that the role of connectivity in diplomacy is being marginalised. This is not encouraging. The diplomacy cannot be seen in isolation. Despite more than seven decades after the independence, India has not able to link its north-east region with the rest of the mainland in a proper manner. As a result of this the Act East Policy has not yielded desired results. But the latest launch of the GSAT-9 satellite could be a trend-setter in the annals of connectivity connecting diplomacy. This has consolidated India's "Neighborhood First" policy. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has launched 2,230-kg GSAT-9, a geostationary communications satellite.

The GSAT-9 became the first Indian spacecraft to carry an Electric Propulsion System (EPS). It will pave the way for development of future satellites that will be considerably lighter. The EPS can significantly reduce the amount of fuel that satellites need to carry. This leaves more room for payloads if we want to add more of it into the satellite, and it reduces the satellite'sweight which helps us decide how to launch it. The India-built and funded GSAT-9, the Rs 450-crore-satellite with a mission life of over 12 years, will benefit India's smaller neighbours making available to them space technology applications in telecommunication and broadcasting, internet services, disaster management, weather forecasting, telemedicine and tele-education, e-governance, etc. The 12 transponders in the Ku band that the satellite has put into space will provide a host of applications and services: TV , DTH, tele-education, tele-medicine, VSATs and disaster management support, besides giving India a secure hotline with the countries that can be used during disaster management and other emergencies. The GSAT-9 would definitely provide a boost to regional cooperation and will directly benefit Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka as well as Afghanistan. The Indian project will be of great benefit to Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives, which do not have space programmes of their own and are particularly susceptible to climate-related disasters.

Besides  GSAT-9, India has already decided to invest Rs 40,000 crore to improve the road infra- structure in the entire region. In fact, 19 big railway projects have also been started. The ambitious UDAN (Ud- eDeshkaAamNagarik) scheme for small airports were also being developed, while the extension of the runway at Shillong airport has been approved. India has started work on building a bridge over the Feniriver in Tripura to ferry heavy machines and goods to and from the northeastern states and the rest of India via Bangladesh through

the Chittagong international port. The Bangladesh government has earlier agreed to allow India to use the Chittagong port, about 72 km from Tripura's southern border town of Sabroom. The Agartala Akhaura rail link will be a key railway connection between India and Bangladesh. Akhaura in south eastern Bangladesh is an important railway junction which connects Chittagong port, resource-rich Sylhet and Dhaka. The Railway ministry will complete the double track para within a short period of time, while efforts are on to expand the double track through Saraighat bridge in Guwahati via Rangia. Rail connectivity between Silghat and Tezpur crossing through Kalia Bhumura Bridge on Brahmaputra has also been proposed by the Railway Ministry. It is to be mentioned that already 29 new trains have been introduced in the NE region and connectivity between two valleys Brahmaputra and Barak in Assam has improved. The government has ambitious plan to lay 6,900 km of gas pipelines linking Bangladesh, Myanmar, most northeastern states, and West Bengal. The implementation of the project will start soon with the Friendship Bridge connecting Moreh in India and Tamu in Myanmar, adding that the process for Kalewa-Yargi road has also been speeded up. Dubbing north-eastern states as 'Ashtalakshmi' that can take India to new heights, President Pranab Mukherjee has correctly pointed out that the government is focussing on reducing isolation of the eastern region and the North-East by improving connectivity.

 

In Afghanistan, India has also played a significant role in the construction of the Zeranj-Delaram road, Pul-e-Khumri transmission line or Salma dam. Indian efforts to work with Iran on the Chahbahar Port are getting underway. India is deeply involved in the recon- struction efforts after 2016 devastating earthquake and has made a renewed commitment to building the Terai roads as also the inauguration of a new transmission line. In Sri Lanka, India's footprint ex- tended from the rebuilding of railway lines to the clearing of ports and construction of power plants. No doubt that these developments are worthy and appreciable. But in reality, India definitely lacks a timebound roadmap to boost its connectivity with the Act East Pol- icy (AEP). In a straight forward proposition, fate of all the regional and multilateral organisation such as RCEP, ASEAN, ARF, EAS, BIMSTEC, ACD, MCG and IORA de- pends on the level of connectivity that India manages in future. In fact, the connectivity will be the hallmark of India's relation to the CLMV countries, namely Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. India-CLMV trade was concentrated in only a few items and there was tremendous scope to deepen and widen the trade basket.