DHAKA: Bangladesh may now ratify the 32-nation Asian Highway agreement without change in the original route plan following refusal by all other countries to toe its proposal for an alternative route avoiding India. The communications ministry this week opted for linking up the country with the 140,000 km road network, keeping the stretch from Tamabil to Benapole or Banglabandha as the Asian Highway route in Bangladesh, a senior official said.
The foreign ministry favoured the ratification of the agreement because of the importance of the road network in trade and commerce and relations with neighbouring countries. Under the original plan, Dhaka would join the highway through India. Earlier it tried to avoid India and wanted to join the highway with an alternative route through Myanmar for which Dhaka sought support from other countries.
Dhaka had proposed a change in the route through Yangon via Teknaf (AH-41 route) instead of the existing route from Tamabil to Benapole or Banglabandha (AH-1 route), which involves India. Bangladesh had reservations about the original plan and feared it would eventually turn out to be a transit route for India. In the Asian Highway map, Tamabil in Sylhet has been shown as the proposed entry point for the highway into Bangladesh and the exit point through Banglabandha in Panchagarh. The entry and exit points are linked with India and a length of 1,804 kilometres goes through Bangladesh. Earlier, in November, seven countries – China, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka – refused to back Bangladesh’s proposed amendment plan to recognise the proposed Dhaka-Yangon Road as the Asian Highway in Bangladesh instead of the AH-1 route from Tamabil to Benapole or Banglabandha on the ground of time constraints. The foreign ministry had sent letters to these countries asking them to support its changed plan at the joint working committee meeting on the highway, to be held in Bangkok on Dec 14 and 15. Twenty-seven countries, including Japan, China, Malaysia, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and all the South Asian nations except Bangladesh, signed the agreement in 2004.