India of course, has to play the leading role in helping the other nations. Being far ahead of others in technology and human capital resources it can guide the other nations through technology transfer agreements. It can also undertake hi-tech turnkey projects in these nations. For this to happen there needs to be a peaceful atmosphere and cordial mutual relations. Healthy and helpful economic relations cannot be developed in conditions of distrust. India and Pakistan, despite having cultural affinities and climate similarities, have not been able to develop good trade relations because of political differences.
They have fought two major wars making each other economically weaker and politically intolerant. The Kashmir issue is still unresolved. Pakistan is even harbouring terrorists to indulge in subversive activities against India. Such intentions have prevented India for a long time to develop trade relations with Pakistan. Things are improving now, but still it will take a long time before durable trust is built wherein these countries can be mutual partners in regional development. The internal problems of Pakistan like demolishing of democracy, defiance of Supreme Court orders and curbing freedom of the press have prevented Pakistan from developing economically.
A country can look upward for trade and other relations only when its society is free from troubles and turmoils. Similar has been the case with Nepal where King Birendra had long been ruling as an autocrat before being rendered out of power by the public. Sri Lanka has been afflicted by internal war between the government forces and Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE) for over two decades, which has weakened the country. Bangladesh has also been troubled by political disturbances.
Turning away from the Indian subcontinent, South-East Asia is a rapidly developing region. The major countries in this region are Japan, Malaysia, China, Indonesia, Korea and other small island nations. During the last two decades, this region has scripted a new story of development. Being nearer to one another and having similar geographical conditions, the nations of this region have cooperated fully in developing one another’s economy through multi-lateral trade. They don’t have a developed agriculture, but have developed on the basis of manufacturing of electronic goods, trade and services. Some of these countries like Malaysia are rich in resources like tin, rubber, etc.
They have set up export-oriented industries to earn valuable foreign exchange and strengthen the economy. Japan, a small country of this region has developed so fast that it is one of the strongest economies in the world.
Seeing the development of this region, India has envisaged a policy called ‘looks east policy’. Being an active member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) India has committed to extend financial, technological and raw material support to other members. The trade between these countries is increasing by over 10 per cent annually. India is the leading country in ASEAN, and has fought for the cause of the group in World Trade Organisation (WTO) forums and other international trade meetings.
India has received huge assistance from these nations in the shape of foreign direct investment, export orders for various kinds of goods and services, technological know how from countries like Japan. Delhi’s Metro Rail Project which has been highly successful, small car projects through Maruti and Hyundai and other projects in computer hardware and electronics have been established with Japanese collaboration.
Apart from trade, regional cooperation is needed in addressing the most urgent issues of international security and stability, including the evolving threat posed by the spread of weapons and materials of mass destruction. It is increasingly being realised that greater efforts are needed in the coming years to construct additional destructional facilities for chemical weapons and to expand cooperation in the field of submarine disarmament. Although global initiatives are needed to combat terrorism and check nuclear proliferation, yet maintaining a high level of security is not possible without regional cooperation.
Sharing the borders or being in the same geographical region enables the countries to plug the holes against the terrorists and thwart their evil designs. The biggest example of regional cooperation can be seen in the European Union (EU). The twenty-five countries of the continent of Europe have sunk their past differences and joined together to develop economically, socially and technologically to become wealthy nations with high per capita income, low unemployment, high literacy and negligible poverty. Trade and exchange barriers have been broken through a common currency, euro.
The ideological differences between the West European countries like England, France, Germany and Spain- which are capitalist economies, and the East European countries like Hungry, Romance, Poland, etc. which are socialist economies have joined hands to march towards development. The EU nations have soft borders. Transportation of goods and movement of people within these countries is extremely easy. There is a plan to make an Asian Union as powerful and effective as the European Union. In the present times of globalisation and fast communication and information technology, regional cooperation can usher in a new era of all-round prosperity.