As important as the new bilateral treaty on extradition with Thailand, the progress made in finalising the trilateral highway through Myanmar marks an important milestone in India’s relations with its eastern neighbours. After concluding a productive visit to Japan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wound up his trip with a useful stopover in Bangkok. Though it took two decades for the extradition treaty to be negotiated, it has finally been signed and New Delhi can look forward to some tangible results. A longish list of wanted men is already with Thailand, and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has promised to expedite the process of extraditing those wanted in India, including Sayed Ahmed Ali Kari alias Munna, alleged to be involved in major cases in Mumbai. Apart from making it easier for India to get hold of fugitives, the treaty will give a boost to intelligence sharing and wider bilateral cooperation against terrorism, money laundering, organised crime, drug trafficking and counterfeiting. It has been India’s argument all along that many organised groups indulge in serious crime in India and escape to Thailand, getting away from the long arms of law. The fact that Thailand had emerged as somewhat of a haven for Indian criminals has done Bangkok’s image no credit. The push to shut down safe havens for Indian insurgents in Bangladesh has proved to be a win-win situation for both countries.
Equally significant on India’s borders with Southeast Asia is the trilateral highway that will connect Manipur and other northeastern States with Thailand through Myanmar. Also hanging fire since the first decade of this century is the proposal for a trans-Asian railway line that will allow the movement of goods and people from Camranh Bay to the Caspian. India needs to pursue both projects seriously with ASEAN, especially the highway which is tantalisingly within reach. India has already extended a $500 million loan to Myanmar, which will also fund the trilateral highway. This project should substantially increase border trade with Myanmar, which has not picked up the way it should have because of infrastructure bottlenecks on both sides of the border but especially inside Myanmar. India and ASEAN have become such close partners that the highway project assumes greater significance. Thailand is already well linked to Malaysia and Singapore, which means that the trilateral highway to Mae Sot in Thailand could in effect connect India with four of its Southeast Asian friends. Connectivity through Myanmar is the bottleneck. New Delhi and Bangkok should work together with Nay Pyi Taw to ensure rapid completion of the missing link.