On November 4, 2006, union minister of state for home Sriprakash Jaiswal stated that in view of Pakistani militants using Nepalese territory as a hideout and base for infiltration into India, the government might re-draft its extradition treaty with Nepal. Speaking at Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, he said Pakistani militants had "found a safe hideout in Nepal and it is a safe passage for coming to India... The government would be unable to check this completely as Nepal is a friendly nation and we have a porous border with it. If the need arises, we might consider a new extradition treaty with Nepal."
The minister's statement confirms a fact well-documented over the years. Nepalese territory has long been used by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as a launch pad for its activities against India. Taking advantage of India's good relationship with Nepal that excludes a policy of 'squeeze targeting' the latter, the ISI has been able to exploit Nepal's territory and the porosity of the 1,751 kilometre India-Nepal border to augment its subversive campaign.
The India-Nepal 'open' border runs across 20 Districts in five Indian states: Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, West Bengal and Uttaranchal. The term 'border' is a misnomer in this context, as people of both the countries can cross it from any point. The legality of the border is enforced through specific border check-posts, including 19 agreed immigration check posts, 22 mutual trade routes and 15 third-country transit routes. There are six transit points for nationals of other countries, who require entry and exit visas to cross the border. Locals, however, routinely cross over at any point, and the terms of the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 offer virtually uninterrupted passage for illegal smuggling of goods, arms, ammunition and narcotics, as well as human trafficking from either side.
A 78-page Indian intelligence report dating back to the year 2000, titled 'Pakistan's Anti-India Activities in Nepal', detailed various aspects of Pakistan's 'undeclared war' and its modus operandi, including support to NGOs promoting ill-will against India among the Nepalese Muslim community by circulating propaganda material received from Pakistan and elsewhere, support to radicalization in an increasing number of mosques along the border and the use of such mosques and religious centres to facilitate the movement of subversive and terrorist cadres and material across the border.
With the fencing of the India-Pakistan border in the Punjab and Rajasthan Sectors, the ISI has increasingly exploited India's open border with Nepal for infiltration of terrorists, arms, ammunition and explosives, to carry out strikes in various parts of India with the help of various Islamist groups directly supported by Pakistani state agencies. Reports indicate that militants have been crossing into and out of India through the porous Indo-Nepal border, particularly via Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar. Terrorist and subversive cadres based in Bangladesh go to Nepal through the same route, crossing into India from West Bengal. According to one Police officer, "Young men from Kashmir Valley, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other places, who are initiated into terrorism, often use the same route to reach the training camps apparently being run in the neighbouring countries."
The impact of such a permeable border has been felt on both the Indian and Nepal side. The ISI has used the Raxaul sub-division in Bihar as a recruiting ground for terrorists, with Birganj (the second largest city of Nepal), allegedly, being the nerve centre of such activities. Over the years Birganj has emerged as a major hub for the distribution of counterfeit currency, narcotics, explosives and arms into different parts of India through Bihar. In addition to the border districts of North Bihar, the Kishanganj area adjacent to West Bengal has also reported significant ISI movement. In July 2006, the Intelligence Bureau Director, E.S.L. Narshimhan, visited Raxaul to take stock of reports of growing activities of militants and smugglers along the border, allegedly patronised by the ISI. Further, agencies indicated that at least 3,000 persons residing on the Indo-Nepal border, particularly in Sikrahna and Raxaul, had been enjoying dual citizenship by registering themselves in both India's and Nepal's voters' list.
Further, smugglers (including the network of Pakistan-based Dawood Ibrahim) and narcotics peddlers have taken advantage of the open border since long. Maloy Krishna Dhar, a former Intelligence Bureau Joint Director, in his book Fulcrum of Evil: ISI-CIA-Al Qarda Nexus¸ has disclosed that the ISI has been active through two subsidiaries—Joint Intelligence Miscellaneous and Joint Intelligence X— to carry out a systematic process of mobilisation among Nepal's Muslim population. Some of the groups aiding this process include the Nepal Islamic Yuva Sangh, Jamait-e-Islami Nepal and Nepal Muslim Seva Samiti. According to a March 27, 2006, report, there are around 1,900 madrassas (seminaries) on both sides of the India-Nepal border, including 800 on the Nepal side. Muslims constitute just 4.2 per cent of Nepal's total population, of which 96.7 percent is confined to the Tarai region bordering India, constituting some 7.32 percent of the total population of the Tarai.
India's Task Force on Border Management, in its report of October 2000 also confirmed ominous developments along the India-Nepal border:
On the Indo-Nepal border, madrassas and mosques have sprung up on both sides in the Terai region, accompanied by four-fold increase in the population of the minority community in the region. There are 343 mosques, 300 madrassas and 17 mosques-cum-madrasas within 10 kilometres of the border on the Indian side. On the Nepal side, there are 282 mosques, 181 madrassas and eight mosques-cum-madrassas. These mosques and madrassas receive huge funds from Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Managers of various madrassas and ulema maintain close links with the embassy officials of those countries located at Kathmandu (sic). Financial assistance is also channelizsed through the Islamic Development Bank (Jeddah), Habib Bank of Pakistan and also through some Indian Muslims living in Gulf countries. Pakistan's Habib Bank, after becoming a partner in Nepal's Himalayan Bank, has expanded its network in the border areas including Biratnagar and Krishna Nagar. It is suspected that foreign currency is converted into Indian currency in Nepal and then brought to India clandestinelyâ€¦ Madrasas and mosques on the Indo-Nepal border are frequently visited by prominent Muslim leaders, Tablighi Jamaats (proselytizing groups) and pro-Pak Nepali leaders. Officials of Pak Embassy have come to notice visiting Terai area of Nepal to strengthen Islamic institutions and to disburse funds to them. Pro-Pak elements in Nepal also help in demographic subversion of the Terai belt.
Indian intelligence now believes that several underground groups in Nepal provide logistics and support to the militants taking shelter there. Some of these have been identified as the Kashmir Jama Masjid Democratic Muslim Association, Nepal World Islamic Council and Nepal Islamic Yuva Sangh. In some cases, such groups are known to have received funding from sympathisers based in Jeddah and other Asian cities. One of these groups is alleged to have links with the Islamic Youth Organisation based in Jakarta. Among others on the Indian intelligence watch list are Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Hadis, Millat-e-Islami (which has links with Jamaat-e-Islami) and Jam Seraj-ul-Alam, which is based in Kapilvastu in South West Nepal.
The serial blasts in Mumbai (July 11, 2006), in Varanasi (March 7, 2006), in Delhi (October 29, 2005), and a foiled terrorist attack on the disputed religious site in Ayodhya on July 5, 2005, all exposed a Nepal connection. The arrest of two Pakistanis, Moiddin Siddiqui and Gulam Hasan Cheema, from a five-star hotel in Kathmandu on July 13, 2006, by the Nepal Police further corroborated these linkages. Then, on August 7, 2006, the arrest of a Dawood Ibrahim aide, Fazlu, from the India-Nepal border at Gorakhpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh had been preceded by the arrests of two suspects in Mumbai blasts, Mohammad Kamal and Khaleel Aziz, from Madhubani in Bihar, again on the India-Nepal border.
Security agencies are also concerned over the free flow of fake currency notes in the denominations of INR 1,000 and INR 500. Police reportedly seized such fakes notes in more than 200 different places on the Indo-Nepal border over the past year. The printing and circulation of massive quantities of fake India currency has been an integral part of the ISI's strategy for decades now. In one of the incidents of this kind, on August 7, 2005, the Uttar Pradesh Police arrested two suspected ISI agents, Mobin Ansari of Nepal and Ashfaq Ahmed of Gorakhpur in UP, from Delhi and recovered fake currency notes with face value of INR 68,500. The duo reportedly confessed that they used to smuggle fake Indian currency via Nepal through their own agents and circulate them in the bordering districts of Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. In direct confirmation of the Pakistani role in the circulation of fake currency through Nepal, a Pakistan Embassy official, Siraj Ahmed Siraj, was detained by the Nepalese Police at Kathmandu, and counterfeit currency amounting to INR 47,000 and USD 9200 was recovered from him.
Following the imposition of Emergency in Nepal in 2001 the Maoists started taking advantage of the open border to take shelter in bordering states in times of adversity and also created a support arrangement with the Indian Maoists for safe haven, medical treatment and assistance in training. The union ministry of home affairs in its 2006 annual report said that 180 Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist leaders and cadres have been arrested from different parts of India over the last five years. It stated, further, that 140 Maoists had been arrested from 2001 to 2004 while 40 were arrested in 2005, adding that Nepali Maoists frequently visit the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for medical treatment. After the November 7, 2006-agreement between the government and Maoists in Nepal, the infiltration by Nepali Maoists may witness a momentary lull. But without a solution crystallizing in Nepal, there is little grounds for lowering the guard on the India-Nepal border.
The Shasastra Seema Bal (SSB), a paramilitary force, which now guards the Indo-Nepal border in Bihar and West Bengal, is already in the process of augmenting its force and would position 45,000 personnel on the ground by March 2007. It has already urged the Bihar government to connect all border outposts, presently numbering 148, through district roads and also favoured greater coordination between central and state agencies against the growing ISI threat in the region. The union home ministry is also considering the setting up of four integrated check posts (ICPs) along the Indo-Nepal border in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. ICPs are expected to be in place shortly at Raxaul and Jogbani in Bihar.
Grave dangers, nevertheless, continue to exist, and, given the nature of the neighbourhood and the campaigns of covert warfare against India by Pakistan and Bangladesh, as long as the Indo-Nepal border remains porous, the dangers of both subversion and terror emanating from Nepal will persist.
Ajit Kumar Singh is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal