A. R. Jumabhoy was born in Singapore in 1925. He did
his Senior Cambridge from Anglo Chinese School of Singapore in 1942. For
a brief period his family went to Bombay due to war in the pacific
peninsula. He did his B. Sc. from Bombay University. His family returned
to Singapore in 1946. He is a businessman and actively participates in
seminars on socio-economic issues. He has often travelled as a member of
Singapore Prime Minister's entourage. His latest contribution is 'India,
Pakistan and Bangladesh: Moving Towards New Horizons'. These three
countries are part of SAARC and if they form an economic union, the
alliance has all the potential to become an economic power. Jumabhoy
recently visited Pakistan. Following are excerpts from an exclusive
interview with him.
I strongly believe in formation of an economic union
of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The confidence building measures
taken by India and Pakistan can hopefully dismantle artificial barriers,
but the best has to come yet. Both the countries have been paying
enormous cost of persistent hostility. It is being argued that political
differences should not stand in the way of exploiting the full potential
of the region for socio-economic progress.
The South Asian region accounts for 21% of the global
population. The region is rich in human and natural resources but
remains impoverished with high unemployment rate, limited social
progress and economic under development. The region is also
characterised by political strife, communal and ethnic violence and a
legacy of mistrust between two of the largest countries of the region,
India and Pakistan.
I strongly believe that India, Pakistan and
Bangladesh should first enter into sub-regional economic co-operation to
achieve the ultimate objective of establishing a common market. This
will in turn create conditions for political harmony and stability in
the entire region. However, to move in this direction, the first step is
to examine the constraints in the way of furthering co-operative
relations in South Asia. It is also necessary to study the potential for
interdependence and economic co-operation among the three countries.
Only then efforts can be made to facilitate the creation of a
sub-regional grouping of these countries.
The compulsions to formla regional group and optimise
the benefits arising from it are immense and should not be ignored.
There is hardly any part of the world that has not formed a regional
trading group of its own. Some of the important regional trading
agreements include the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the
European Union (EU) and Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum (APEC).
At a time when even the neighbouring regions such as ASEAN are building
upon existing linkages to expand their regional identity in economic and
security matters, South Asia cannot afford to be left behind.
There is a great potential for sub-regional grouping
with contiguous border states benefiting from their proximate status for
mutual gains and accelerated economic growth. The three countries were
part of one political unit under British Raj and shared similar
administrative machinery, infrastructure and means of communication. The
whole sub-continent was incorporated within an integrated market for the
purpose of trade, capital and labour flows. These countries also have
strong cultural linkages with each other and enjoy common languages.
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh inhibit a vast and
contiguous landmass, having access to vast natural resources` They have
a population of close to 1.5 billion people with a fairly impressive
combined GDP, and can offer large sized markets for trade and industry.
If the three countries came together they would be the biggest consumer
market in the world.
Some signs of change in the mindset of people from
India and Pakistan can already be seen. There is increasing pressure
from business lobbies for the liberalisation of trade. Business
communities on both sides of borber are eager to diversify and expand
the existing trade linkages. It has also been pointed out the three
principal economic groups expected to gain are the consumers, the
producers and the governments.
In addition to increasing trade, there exists
tremendous potential for economic gains in the joint exploration of
natural gas, electricity and water resources. India being the larger
partner will have to bear the prime responsibility for initiating
co-operative linkages in the region. Being the largest economy it can
even take some non-reciprocal and unilateral measures for accelerating
investment and trade flows with its neighbouring countries. The
short-term costs of any such unilateral gestures would be more than
offset by the long-term advantages.
Boosting economic co-operation is a win-win situation
for the three countries. If France and Germany in Europe, and now India
and China can bury their political differences and co-operate
economically, there is no reason why India, Pakistan and Bangladesh
cannot do the same. Engagement in the area of trade co-operation and
infrastructure development will lead to greater economic prosperity for
the whole region. This in turn will go a long way and help resolved
longstanding political conflicts in the sub-continent.