The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi watch gives Dhaka scare

New Delhi, Jan. 31: The Bangladesh government is worried whether India will take the initiative to convince South Asian neighbours that the forthcoming Saarc summit in Dhaka should be called off because of deteriorating law and order in that country.

Even as preparations are in full swing for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his team's visit to Dhaka, India feels the situation in Bangladesh in the wake of the killing of a senior Awami League leader last week is 'grave'.

A senior official said: 'We are keeping a close watch over the situation in Dhaka. In our assessment, the situation is grave. But as of now, we are committed towards attending the Saarc summit.'

The summit was earlier to be held in January but was re-scheduled in the wake of the December 26 tsunami.

Shamsul Kibira, a former finance minister and senior leader of the Opposition Awami League, along with his nephew Shah Manjurul Huda and three others, were killed in an explosion at a political rally in Bangladesh's Habibgunj district last week.

The Saarc summit is scheduled to be held on February 6 and 7. But foreign minister K. Natwar Singh, who is to leave for Dhaka on February 4 to attend the meeting of the Saarc foreign ministers preceding it, today described the situation as 'very distressing' and 'very worrying'.

He said: 'It was very distressing and very worrying. We immediately sent our condolences to the family of Kibira.' Asked whether the incident will affect the Saarc summit, the minister said: 'I hope it will not.'

However, the Indian establishment is keeping a close watch on the situation in Bangladesh where the Awami League has been holding an indefinite hartal. Indications suggest the Bangladesh National Party coalition government has been making all arrangements to ensure that the summit goes on as scheduled and the heads of governments and their delegation members are provided adequate security.

But the situation may turn for the worse if the Awami League and its supporters decide to resort to violence to draw attention to the 'persecution of political opponents' in Bangladesh. If they manage to force postponement of the summit, they will be able to prove that there has been a total breakdown of law and order in the country.

For India, making any move to get the summit postponed can be irksome. Irrespective of whether it is Delhi or any other South Asian country which takes the initiative, in the Bangladeshi establishment the needle of suspicion will turn towards India. If that happens, it is likely to bring back the strain in bilateral relations which have, of late, seen more 'lows' than 'highs'.

India has made it clear it will raise its concern on the series of attacks on the Opposition in Bangladesh with the BNP leadership during talks. Both the foreign minister and the Prime Minister are likely to have separate meetings with their Bangladeshi counterparts in the next few days on bilateral and regional issues.

In its official statement, India has condemned the attack on Kibira and described it as a 'direct attack on the fabric of democracy'. Delhi's disappointment with the BNP government stems from the fact that since August last year, such attacks on the Opposition seem to have become its policy.

The BNP is not likely to take to the Indian criticism and may dub it as Delhi's attempt to 'meddle in its internal affairs'. But India is firm on its stand as it fears that the growth of fundamentalist forces is not limited to Bangladesh alone and may have an adverse impact on the entire neighbourhood.

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