Kathmandu cleared as South Asia leaders arrive in Nepal

Nepal's capital gets fresh polish and tight security for regional summit, as activists call for more rights-focused policies.

Kathmandu cleared as South Asia leaders arrive in Nepal

World Bulletin/News Desk

South Asia’s leaders may not encounter many Nepalis when they arrive in capital Kathmandu on Tuesday.

Everything has been adapted to cater for their meeting at the 18th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation, attended by the prime ministers and presidents of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. 

Movement to and from the airport will be all but halted. Traffic bans and police roadblocks mean the city’s streets, once pot-holed but now polished with a fresh layer of tarmac, have been emptied of cars.

A national holiday will mean that people will also be absent, instead replaced by roaming groups of stone-faced soldiers and armed police.

“For a week, Nepalis have to live like we’re in a jail,” says Kheshab, a hotel manager in Kathmandu’s backpacking district Thamel. The summit and the accompanying restrictions come during the city’s busy tourist season.

John, a driver of one of Kathmandu’s miniature white taxis, is resigned to a loss of income during the summit, known commonly as SAARC.

“It’s bad for me but for the city it’s good. When there is SAARC, they bring these good things, like these new roads. They grow things, look at those trees,” he says, pointing at fresh greenery near the summit’s Kathmandu city hall venue. 

People’s SAARC

The meeting of the almost 30-year old association, designed to build greater regional connectivity, has not only raised questions in Nepal. In the past week, regional media have questioned why declarations on a free trade area and visa freedom have not materialized.

Regional activists have tried to address those concerns at a parallel meeting also in Kathmandu, more of a festival than a summit, called People’s SAARC.

In contrast to the paralyzing security measures surrounding the official summit, it opened Saturday with rallies, chants and dancing.

For three days activists, academics, aid workers and local youth flitted in and out of the tents and impromptu circles where more than 100 organizations and gathered to discuss women and children’s rights, social exclusion, climate change and basic human rights. 

“All the governments are sitting together but they have not even been consulting before the SAARC, what people want,” says Sharmila Karki, one the event’s main organizers. “We want to make them know how people are angry and how people are still not trusting them.”

“We people at the grassroots do not feel they are doing the best for the people,” she says. 

Moving Freely

A recurrent theme for SAARC -- which has seen little progress -- has been the idea of visa-free movement.

“People should have country-to-country movement without visas. It would be good for all of the region,” says Badrul Alam, who arrived in Nepal with a group of climate change activists who had travelled by land from Bangladesh. “But the countries are against free movement, building fences at borders. They think people are coming to make trouble but they’re just coming for their survival.”

He also says that free movement could be a more specific solution for easing pressure on climate migrants.

“Lots of people are forced to migrate to cities like Dhaka and they have to take unusual jobs, like in factories or pulling rickshaws, because in their rural areas they work in agriculture,” he says.  “Climate migrants should be able to move anywhere. SAARC can do it.”

“Climate migrants need special treatment from SAARC governments,” he says.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 25 Kasım 2014, 10:31

Muhammed Öylek