SOUTH Asian countries need to do more to facilitate the movement of goods and services with each other and other regions. Regulatory and legal schemes make it the least economically integrated region in the world, despite the technological feasibility of infrastructure and cultural connections between the region’s states. There is thus a danger that the region’s countries will individually become integrated into the greater Asian economy through a third country, namely China, a trend that is underscored by Xi Jinping’s recent trip to Pakistan. While this is not bad for individual countries, it will hurt the region as a whole.
One way that South Asian countries thwart each other is by using their geography to make land trade for other states all the more convoluted, driving up costs and generally making trade needlessly more difficult for their neighbors.
India and Pakistan, for example, are interested in trading with Afghanistan and Tajikistan, respectively, countries that they do not border. In theory, this should be relatively easy. During the Mughal Empire, a road, the Grand Trunk Road was built between Kabul and Chittagong through Delhi, running through modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. The road still exists and many sections of it have been converted into modern highways. In addition, multiple other roads and railways connect the region, so the possibility of physical trade is not hindered by foreboding terrain that prevents the construction of infrastructure. Rather, modern borders come in the way.
For example, Pakistan is blocked from having a direct land route with Central Asia because of Afghanistan. During the British Raj, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan was specifically designed to keep the British and Russian empires from touching, and thus modern-day Pakistan and Tajikistan do not share a border. Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani brought up this point during his recent visit to India, arguing that Afghanistan could facilitate Pakistani connectivity to Tajikistan if Pakistan facilitated Indian connectivity to Afghanistan. Ghani aimed to facilitate connectivity between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, and then on to Central Asia.
However, this is something that Pakistan has continued to block. Since the Partition, Pakistan has prevented Indian access to Afghanistan, by not giving India any transit rights to access the Afghan market for its exports.