Sunday, November 27, 2005

Saarc Diary

International Herald Tribune

The strategic establishment in India might be cynical, and even disdainful, about Saarc, but the smaller nations are certainly still committed and enthusiastic about building on South Asian cooperation. The Saarc summit was a big event for Dhaka, as the government went into an overdrive, sprucing up the city for the summit.

It was almost as if someone had been sent to work with a brush and a broom on the capital city, with the sparkling clean streets and illuminated buildings appearing unfamiliar even to the Dhaka-ites. Of course the Awami League credited it to Saarc, insisting that Prime Minister Khaleda Zia had turned the beggars out of Dhaka, and whitewashed the walls only to impress the Saarc visitors. The BNP supporters were equally adamant that the new look had nothing to do with Saarc, but that an active and committed mayor had taken up the task of keeping the capital clean with admirable fervour. Whatever be the truth, the rest of South Asia was impressed!

For those familiar with the bustling roads of Dhaka, the very proposition that the city could be turned into a security fortress was unimaginable. But this is exactly what happened during, and just before, the Saarc summit with roads cleared of traffic, people confined indoors, as the security forces took over the city with amazing proficiency. The commandos in black dress and dark glasses manning the important intersections gave a look of deadly seriousness, and it was clear that the government was taking no chances.


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