Connectivity is at the heart of competition between India and Pakistan

welcome to Foreign Police‘s South Asia Brief.

This week’s highlights: India and Pakistan chart divergent connectivity paths of South Asia, a rare terrorist attack hits Islamabad, and a $500 million infrastructure grant is not ratified in Nepal.

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Connectivity and competition

Regional connectivity has been a long-standing challenge for South Asia: infrastructure is poor, diplomatic relations are strained, and trade within the region is only 5% of its total trade. The World Bank has called South Asia one of the least integrated regions in the world because of this low level of trade.

Ironically, current efforts to boost connectivity are more likely to drive South Asian states apart than bring them closer together. New infrastructure plans are unfolding in the sub-regions, with India pursuing initiatives in the east and Pakistan considering opportunities in Afghanistan and Central Asia. This infrastructure development becomes the last battleground of competition between Islamabad and New Delhi.

On January 15, Pakistan’s energy minister announced that negotiations were underway with Russia to build a gas pipeline from Kazakhstan to Pakistan. The planned new pipeline marks Islamabad’s latest effort to boost connectivity with Kabul and Central Asia, but not with the rest of South Asia. Last year, Pakistan concluded a railway development agreement with Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. He also finalized an agreement with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and the United States to explore cooperation in connectivity.

Pakistan’s most established connectivity project is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. CPEC lost momentum last year due to security and funding issues, but it remains a priority for Islamabad, which hopes to expand CPEC to Kabul. Pakistan is also part of two older projects hampered by financing hurdles: the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline and the Central Asia-South Asia-1000 project, which aims to bring hydropower from Kyrgyzstan. and from Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s geographic concentration makes sense for practical and geopolitical reasons. The official end of the war in Afghanistan reduces security risks for infrastructure development in that country. The Taliban has already approved cross-border infrastructure projects, including TAPI. Pakistan’s growing relationship with Russia will help it navigate Central Asia, where Moscow wields great influence and Islamabad seeks to supplant New Delhi. (On January 27, India will host a summit for Central Asian leaders.)

Meanwhile, India is looking across South Asia. It leveraged its membership in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) towards integration. Bimstec includes five South Asian states, but not Pakistan, as well as Myanmar and Thailand. Recent Bimstec agreements establish plans for connected electricity networks. India has also approved the use of its grid by other countries, resulting in power sharing agreements with Bangladesh and Nepal.

India’s eastward push also looks strategic. Pakistan does not provide commercial transit rights to India, which limits any Indian connectivity plan to the west. With the Taliban in power in Afghanistan, New Delhi has less influence in Kabul. Adopting Bimstec enables India to exclude Pakistan from its own region. Moreover, Bimstec is an attractive business partner: its members have a combined GDP of nearly $3 trillion.

Pakistan and India’s connectivity plans face challenges. The war in Afghanistan may be over, but persistent terrorist risks and the economic crisis pose significant challenges to infrastructure development. The same goes for political volatility in Central Asia. Funding also remains a concern. Bimstec is underfunded and has no free trade agreement. Border disputes are also a challenge. On January 16, Nepal objected to India building roads in disputed territory.

For South Asian connectivity projects to be truly regional, relations between India and Pakistan need to improve, which is not expected anytime soon. For now, sub-regional connectivity may be the best possible outcome, making broader regional integration elusive.


Violence escalates in Pakistan. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, has carried out several attacks on police officers this week – the latest wave of violence from the group in recent months. The rise in attacks partly explains why casualties linked to violence in Pakistan rose by 42% in 2021, according to a new report from the Center for Research and Security Studies, a Pakistani think tank.

A deadly attack on police in Islamabad, Pakistan’s relatively safe capital, earlier this week is particularly significant. Most recent TTP attacks have taken place near the border with Afghanistan, where the TTP leadership is based. The Islamabad attack suggests that the TTP is expanding its geographic reach, as it did between 2007 and 2014, when it posed Pakistan’s greatest terrorist threat. One difference is that the TTP now appears to target security forces and other state targets, not civilians.

At the same time, this week offered a grim reminder that the TTP is not the only terrorist threat in Pakistan. On Thursday, a separatist group from Balochistan province claimed responsibility for an explosion that ripped through a market in Lahore, Pakistan, killing at least two people and injuring more than two dozen.

India finalizes currency exchange with Sri Lanka. On January 13, India’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka confirmed a $400 million currency swap between the countries to replenish Sri Lanka’s plummeting foreign exchange reserves. Plans for a deal were first announced last month when Sri Lanka’s finance minister visited New Delhi. The program is expected to include food, health and energy aid for Sri Lanka, which is currently experiencing one of the worst economic crises in South Asia, largely due to the impact of the pandemic on its essential tourism industry.

India’s move comes amid intensifying competition with China in Sri Lanka. Relations stumbled last year after Colombo, which received major infrastructure investment from Beijing, halted a New Delhi-backed port investment project. India then took advantage of a spat between Sri Lanka and China over contaminated fertilizer, sending its own products. High-level economic talks followed, including a discussion on currency exchange.

Tellingly, New Delhi confirmed the aid package just days after the Chinese foreign minister’s visit to Colombo.

Indian and Pakistani migrant workers killed in drone strike. The three people killed Monday in a drone attack that targeted fuel trucks in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, were from South Asia: two Indians and a Pakistani. According to the Indian Embassy in the United Arab Emirates, 2 of the 6 people injured were also Indians. The three people who died all worked for Abu Dhabi’s national oil company.

Many Indians and Pakistanis, from migrant workers to business executives, work in the United Arab Emirates, a country that enjoys warm relations with New Delhi and Islamabad. They rarely face security threats. About 1.6 million Pakistanis live in the country, and it is the top overseas destination for Indian workers, according to their respective governments. Millions more work in the wider Persian Gulf region, making it one of the main sources of remittances for India and Pakistan.


“Sixty percent of American voters, including 47% Democrats and 3 in 4 Republicans, oppose sending financial aid to alleviate multiple humanitarian crises in Afghanistan because the money could end up with the Taliban. .”

Conclusion of a new Morning Consult / POLITICO survey


under the radar

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US government agency that provides foreign aid grants to promote economic growth, is not known for courting controversy. But in Nepal, a proposed $500 million MCC grant for new road and power projects has been a political hot potato for more than four years.

The grant agreement, originally signed in September 2017, is the largest foreign grant ever received by Kathmandu. It is intended to meet dire needs, but the Nepalese parliament never ratified it due to resistance from leaders of opposition parties and ruling parties. Critics worry that Washington’s characterization of the grant as part of its Indo-Pacific policy means Beijing will perceive it as an anti-China move.

Critics also worry that the United States will not abide by Nepal’s laws if disputes emerge from the grant activities. When Nepali Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba took power last year, it looked like the grant would finally be ratified. Deuba is considered less close to Beijing than its predecessor and has pledged to ratify the deal. However, in recent weeks its coalition partners have refused, leaving half a billion dollars in potential infrastructure support untapped.


A DailyMirror The editorial warns that politicians in Sri Lanka are trying to divert public attention from economic stress by focusing on community threats that do not exist: stirring up discord between communities.

In the Dhaka Grandstand, journalist Syed Badrul Ahsan argues that Bangladeshi writers of all persuasions are poorly marketed abroad. “There is absolutely no way for foreign culture connoisseurs to know that a tribe of writers ready and willing to offer their works to them reign in Bangladesh,” he writes.

pakistani journalist Zofen Ebrahim written in Dawn that the good health of new mothers is essential to reduce child malnutrition. “If during the first six months of a child’s life, his mother is treated like someone special, there is no reason for the child to suffer from malnutrition,” she writes.

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