Indo Nepal Relations at Cross Roads

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Pathological obsession with Kashmir is forcing India to lose grip on the other frontiers says Nishindra Kinjalk

1751 km. International border. Neither visa nor a passport needed to cross the border from either side. Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Sikkim on Indian side share this border with the kingdom of Nepal. This porous border has been used by the anti India forces in the recent past to operate at ease and strike at will. And the low priority given by India to its small neighbours has added the desired fuel to the fire. China and Pakistan combine could not find a better scenario to bully India and cause serious damage to the Indian interests.

Way back in 1996, Indian intelligence agencies had reported that ISI was focussed on creating a strong base in Kathmandu and Pokhra in Nepal. It had added that it could be a red signal for internal security of India as well as for the cross border terrorism.

1998, June 29. Late evening. Mirza Dilshad Beg, a Nepali Parliamentarian, was killed by the shooters of Chhota Rajan gang. Beg was alleged to have had strong links with the D company and was also alleged to have been working closely with ISI to spread terror in India.

1999, December 24. Friday evening. Air India flight IC 814 carrying 176 passengers and 15 crew members flew from Kathmandu to New Delhi. Hijacked mid way. Via Amritsar, Lahore and Dubai, it got stationed at Kandhar in Afganistan, where Taliban ruled then. On way the hijackers released 27 passengers at Dubai airport. Negotiations began. Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee at New Delhi succumbed to the pressure. The demands by the hijackers were accepted. On 31 December India not only released Maulana Masood Azhar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Mushtaque Ahmed Zargar, but the Minister of External Affairs Jaswant Singh escorted them in a chartered plane to ensure safe delivery of the three prisoners from Indian side to the hijackers at Kandhar airport.Masood Azhar had founded the outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad that later masterminded the attack on Indian parliament in 2001. Ahmed Omar Sayeed Sheikh was allegedly involved in 9/11 attack in USA and was also alleged to be involved in the abduction and murder of Daniel Pearl. He was later arrested by Pakistan in 2002. And Mushtaque Ahmed had played active role in training Islamic militants in POK.

2001, June 1. 2100 IST. The Narayanhiti Royal Palace, Kathmandu. The King of Nepal Birendra Vikram Shah, the queen Maharani Aishwarya and eight more family members were massacred to death. Five more were seriously injured. The weapons used were Colt rifle, submarine gun, shotgun and 9mm pistol. The royal family had gathered on monthly reunion dinner. Crown Prince Deependra was officially blamed for these killings. He also died of bullet injuries. The stories of conspiracy and involvement of next King Gyanendra and his son Paras are still rife in Nepal. The ISI and Maoist involvement have also been talked about frequently. In the aftermath, the sole Hindu nation in the world Nepal became a secular country, the power of the Royal family was gradually seized and Nepal headed for an absolute democracy.

2013, August 28. Motihari, near the Indo Nepal border in Bihar. Founder leader of Indian Mujahideen (IM) Mohammad Ahmed Siddibappa alias Yasin Bhatkal was arrested by Indian security forces. Nepal Intelligence agencies had earlier spotted him and informed the IB in New Delhi. He was on the most wanted list of NIA. He, a resident of Karnataka, was trained for explosives in Pakistan in 2006. On interrogation, on 31 August 2013, he admitted to have recruited young unemployed youth from North Bihar & Nepal for terror attacks across India. NIA court in Hyderabad sentenced Yasin to death in 2016. It’s noteworthy that he was involved in Zaveri Bajar & Dadar bomb explosions in Mumbai on 31 July 2011, that saw 27 dead and 130 injured. He was also wanted in the German Bakery blast in Pune on 13 February 2010, which saw 17 dead. Maharashtra ATS had earlier announced a prize of Rs 10 lakhs and Delhi Police had put a prize money of 15 lakhs on him. Yasin had a knowledge of Unani Medicine and was called ‘Doctor’ by the locals where he was staying. While roaming in North Bihar he often wore ‘burka,’ and was always accompanied with a group of persons, who were his guards in disguise.

2018, February 13. Ariz Khan, an alleged IM militant linked to the serial blasts in UP, Gujrat and Delhi, and had escaped during the Batla house encounter in Okhla, Delhi, was arrested near Sharda Inter College, Banbasa on Indo Nepal border. There was intelligence information that SIMI and IM had established bases in Nepal to train recruits from India. Ariz was a key person for these camps. He had forged fake papers of nationality of Nepal, married a hindu Nepali girl and got her converted to Islam. She was now called Sara.

The above mentioned few examples suffice to bring home the crucial point that the Indian intelligence agencies had certainly failed to foresee these anti-national activities along the Indo Nepal border on either side. The policymakers sitting in New Delhi seemed to be more obsessed with the operations in the Jammu and Kashmir, and in the bargain they loosened their hold on the other frontiers. Be it LTTE in Sri Lanka, various outfits in North East, Rohingyas from Myanmar or the Maoists in Nepal, Indian authorities seemingly have chosen to underplay threats from these frontiers. And the nation has paid heavily on this account in frequent setbacks.

The recent general elections in Nepal saw K P Oli taking oath as the new PM of Nepal against the wishes of New Delhi. New Delhi had supported Sher Bahadur Deuba- Prachanda combine which lost. Oli is pro China, for obvious reasons. This proximity of Kathmandu with China is a bad sign for Indian security in coming future. Though Nepal also must be wary of the imperialistic designs of China. The example of Tibet need not be over emphasized.

In 2017, China has pumped in 80 million USD FDI in Nepal as against 36million USD by India. It is building Pokhra airport at a cost third higher than the estimate. It has started many infrastructure projects in Nepal, without the fear of cost escalation. The route ensured by China through Nepal shall facilitate easy movement of the Chinese heavy vehicles with much ease from China to Indian border, especially the Birgunj Raxaul border.

This is a serious matter, as on Indian side in North Bihar there is no army establishment trained in combat operations. The only TA unit 151 Inf (JAT) at Chakkar, Muzaffarpur has most of it strength deployed at JK borders. There was a move to establish a brigade at the Muzaffarpur in 1998 at the behest of the then Defence Minister George Fernandes. Fernandes was personally interested in this deployment as he was fifth time Lok Sabha MP from Muzaffarpur. The preliminary works had been completed. But under political pressure and other unknown reasons the proposed brigade was shifted elsewhere. Irony is that though Muzaffarpur is the divisional headquarter of Tirhut which has the most sensitive Raxaul border, its airport remains non operational.

The over political leaders of Bihar also have not paid any attention to these issues. The utterances of its senior leaders before 2015 Bihar Assembly elections are noteworthy. BJP leader and the then ex Dy CM Bihar Sushil Modi tweeted, “ Lalu- Nitish made Bihar a haven of terrorists with an eye over the vote of a particular community”; “For votes Lalu and Nitish can put the entire country at risk, what to talk of Bihar only”.

Same Sushil Modi is now Deputy CM with Nitish Kumar. BJP national president Amit Shah said, “If BJP wins in Bihar there will be diwali in India and if UPA wins there will be celebrations in Pakistan”. His party is in the government with one faction of Grand Alliance, JDU.

The time has come for New Delhi to reassess the Indo Nepal relations. It needs to walk an extra mile to ensure Kathmandu gets to value India as its most trusted neighbour, rather a partner in growth. The focus on the areas of North Bihar and Eastern UP along the Indo Nepal border has to be more sincere with security forces alerted, intelligence agencies put on extra vigil and more reinforcement of armed forces at the key positions. India has to come out of its pathological obsession of northwest frontiers and be more practical in dealing with other frontiers too, especially Nepal.

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