Some 2004, Sri Lankan Airlines will fly to more than 20 Indian destinations after leasing aircraft from its investor, Emirates. Thai Airways and perhaps even its subsidiary will also network with a number of new cities in India. Theoretically, this means even if the flights are just weekly, India could have 4,000 tourists flying in and out every seven days. The three free trade partners have worked out a mutually beneficial arrangement that puts Nepal in the shadow.
India's attitude of "we are the best" is helping them forge ahead. Competition is fierce between Indian states to lure in tourists and industries. The mood is bouyant with the improvement in technology, transport and communication infrastructures. Even Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Nepal's neighbouring states that everyone loves to poke fun at, are shaping up. No one wants to be left behind.
Both India and Thailand are looking at strengthening ties with China. Post-Cancun, they're also sending tentative feelers out towards Brazil and South Africa. As the US tries to find its ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, wooing both India and Pakistan close to presidential elections, it has more fires to fight at home-and not only the Californian conflagration. The Beed predicts this growing trend of wooing regional powers will pave the way for newer blocs sooner than we anticipate.
The inactivity in Nepal is in sharp contrast to the buzz in the region. By hosting George Bush and the APEC summit, Thailand has shown the world that it is a non-colonised, peaceful nation that can be the future neutral ground for trade as well as peace. Note: the birthplace of the Buddha can no longer claim this Unique Selling Proposition (USP). In Bangkok's business circuit, the Beed was privy to several conversations that all ran along the same line: Thailand has arrived on the global arena. It was apparent in VVIP logistics (Series 7 BMWs made a statement), in the way Prime Minister Shinawatra organised a massive city clean-up and even in a photo-op of various heads of state gussied up in traditional Thai attire at the Royal Palace.
The power shift in not-so distant Malaysia is also of regional importance. Mahathir stepped down, demonstrating that he is no dictator. In his own words, dictators never retire. Is anyone listening in Nepal? The devolution from the old generation to the new in Kuala Lumpur ranges from trade to politics. It shows how a nation can rise above communal violence, a colonial past and crippling economic crises.
What does this have to do with us? Plenty and conversely, precious little. For the oldest and first free trade partner in South Asia, Nepal seems to have fallen into the regional blind spot, an irony that does not escape the Beed. As for how much we register on the Indian radar, a comment from an Indian business person sums it up: "Nepal crops up only when we're concerned about the ISI."
As much as we need to separate politics from business, the Beed is pragmatic and realises the path to progress needs the restoration of multiparty democracy. And we'd be wise to also heed our neighbours' examples: network, promote devolution of state power and seize the moment. Till that happens, we'll just lag further and further behind the rest of the region and the world.