COMMUNICATION and progress, in modern parlance, are two interchangeable terms. And of all conceivable forms of communication, movement of physical objects is the most basic one. This is because it transports people and their belongings between different geographical locations and thereby also brings those faraway places near to each other. Roads, railways, waterways and air routes comprise the infrastructures of such physical communication between different places on the earth. In a world that is thus fast becoming closer, hence smaller, if only due to the ever-expanding networks of physical infrastructures of communication, self-imposed isolation of a society or nation from any such major network is tantamount to suicide. And such isolation is also the antithesis of modernity and progress.
Can Bangladesh then afford, under any circumstances, to remain isolated from any regional or international development that promises further enhancement of the level of communication between different geographical locations spanning regions within a continent or even continents? The Asian Highway, or AH, for short, is the name of the grand idea of communication that promised to connect the countries of Asia with a single road network. First conceived in 1959, the grand project of building a highway on a continental scale progressed rather smoothly for about one and a half decades until the mid seventies of the last century. The whole project then remained in a limbo for more than a quarter century for want of fund until 2003 when it was again revived by its sponsor -- the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap). This revival was done in accordance with the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Asian Highway Network as adopted by the intergovernmental meeting in 2001 in Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea.
But where does Bangladesh stand vis-à-vis this international development that intends to connect all the regions of Asia with a single network of highways? Strangely though, the country, or rather the government, is still dithering over the matter over how and when to join the development. But such hesitation on the part of the government may ultimately prove to be very costly for the nation. The Asian Highway (AH) authority has already set a deadline until December 31 next to ratify the intergovernmental accord to join the multinational highway project. Otherwise, the authorities concerned will go ahead with their project excluding Bangladesh. Under the circumstances, the country is in a real predicament. But what is the reason for the government's indecision about joining such an international project from which the country can only benefit? It would also be worthwhile to note at this point that all the neighbours of Bangladesh in the southeast, south and northwest have meanwhile ratified the agreement. So, Bangladesh runs the risk of being left out into the cold unless it is able to accelerate its pace of decision-making on this score.
So far as it could be learnt, the sore point of the government with the AH project is that, of the three possible routes that may connect the country with the continental road network, Bangladesh prefers the one known as AH 41. This particular route promises to connect Bangladesh with AH along the Dhaka-Yangon via Ukhia and Teknaf road. One may recall that Bangladesh has already developed a huge stake with this route passing through Myanmar connecting Thailand along the way with other southeast Asian countries. The government in Yangon is, however, dillydallying over the construction of the part of the road within its own territory for reasons best known to it despite Bangladesh's assurance of technical and financial support for its construction. The other two options regarding AH, viz, the AH1 and AH2 start from Benapole of India near Bangladesh border and end at Tamabil via Dhaka. In fact, both these routes start and end in Indian territory after a short journey through Bangladesh. Understandably, the cabinet had earlier rejected the proposal submitted by the communications ministry to join AH under the present conditions. But the government should not waste any more time on the matter.