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Shah Imran Ahmed
Rashtriya Sahara
April 2000
Title: Darbar for TERRORISTS
Author: Shah Imran Ahmed
Publications: Rashtriya Sahara
Date: April 2000

The Himalayan kingdom has become a dangerous staging ground and haven for terror and ISI activities against India.

As you enter the office of a top-ranking Nepal police officer in Kathmandu, you cannot avoid the striking message on the notice board. "NEPAL - Never End Peace And Love." But recent RDX seizures, counterfeit currency floating around and underworld activities like smuggling of arms might force someone to rewrite the slogan to read "NEPAL - Now Ends Peace and Love."  Sounds exaggerated? Not really.  Of late, Kathmandu, the scenic capital of the landlocked Himalayan Hindu Kingdom, has become the principal staging point for terrorist attacks on India by Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), and other anti-Indian forces.

There are numerous reasons for this.  Nepal has a 1,850 km long porous border, with as many as 27 of its 75 districts touching the Indian state of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Sikkim.  As no passport or visa is required for Indians and Pakistanis visiting Nepal, these entry points serve not only as a transit point for absconders from different countries but also as a safe haven for Pakistan-exported terrorist activities.  Lastly, paranoia about its sovereignty prevent Nepal from allowing Indian intelligence agencies to freely operate and crack down on the ISI network.

A senior Indian intelligence official says: "The myth that Nepal is a peaceful country has been finally demolished.  The recent turn of events amply proves this fact, and there cannot be two opinions about it."  The presence of a large number of ISI operatives in the Himalayan Kingdom is an undisputed fact which even the Nepal police acknowledges.  A senior Nepal Police Official says: "Increasing ISI activities are posing a threat not only to the law and order situation but to our people as well.  After all, these are my people who suffer because of subversive operations."

According to a Research and Analysis (RAW) official: "The ISI is trying to develop close contacts with the people leaving along the border areas.  In this sequence, the latest strategy that the ISI has adopted is to enter into joint ventures in the Nepalese districts touching India.  There are reports that certain such collaborations have recently come up in various business areas.  Apart from this, the ISI is sending people from border areas in large number to Islamabad-based Dawa Academy for fundamentalist training. Once they are back, they provoke others to join the same.  And this is a source of worry."

The rapid growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Nepal's Terai region, appears to have boosted the morale of the ISI.  According a statistics, the Muslim population in Nepal has grown from seven lakhs in 1971 to nearly 55 lakhs in 1998.  Consequently, a record number of madrasas and mosques on both sides of the border have come up.  And this is a matter of worry for the intelligence agencies.  These institutions reportedly receive funds from abroad, especially Pakistan which, in turn, are being used in spreading anti-India operations.  Funds are said to have been routed through the Kathmandu-based Himalayan-Habib Bank, a joint Nepal-Pak venture, to the Muslim religious and educational institutions.

Intelligence sources believe that the diplomatic staff of Pakistan has been instrumental in bringing together some Muslim outfits in Nepal to organize anti-India activities.  These outfits reportedly receive huge funds from the Pakistani embassy in Kathmandu and other sympathizers of the "Muslim cause." The ISI is also suspected of roping the office bearers of Napal's Jama Masjid and Muslim Insaf Party of Nepal in its operation.

Apart from Muslims, the ISI is also cashing in on the growing anti-India sentiment among the Nepalese.  Anti-India graffiti like 'Indian Army go back ' and 'we don't want Nepal to be a play ground' are a common sight in Nepal and other places.  Says an office bearer of one of the Nepal's student unions in Kathmandu: "We don't want the Indian Army on our land.  How long we will continue to be the younger brother of India.  Now we have grown up and can defend our frontiers on our own."  The Maoist forces in the country are also feared to be holding hands with the ISI in Nepal.  About a few months back, the Nepal Police had seized one AK-47 rifle from some Maoist activists.  The gun was allegedly acquired from ISI operatives in the country.

Even a large quantity of Indian counterfeit currency that is being circulated in Nepal is the handiwork of ISI operatives.  Since October 1999, Nepal Police have detected three such cases.  On October 15, it arrested five people on charge of possessing counterfeit currency worth Rs.24,000 in the denomination of 100 rupee notes.  Then on January 2, this year, the police seized Rs.50,000 worth fake Indian currency notes from the premises of one assistant secretary in the Pakistan Embassy, Asim Saboor during a raid.  Soon after this seizure, the police arrested three youths-Satya Narayan, Girish Chand Bhalla and Krishna Bahadur Shreshtha for peddling fake Indian currency.  During the investigation, they revealed that they had been in the business for quite some time and were allegedly working on behalf of Pakistani embassy officials.

After the arrest of a group of ISI activists and their subsequent interrogation in April 1992, first evidence became available that the Himalayan Kingdom was being used for gaining access to India.  Following this, Delhi Police nabbed one agent in June 1993,  who confirmed that Pakistan's intelligence agency had been building Nepal as its base for creating disturbances in India.  Some observers, however, attribute ISI's presence to the advent of the multi-party system in the country in 1990, which saw the end of the 30 year-old panchayat rule there.  It is said that with the dawn of democracy, the Nepal government turned liberal.  Taking advantage of the situation, a number of Kashmiri-traders, especially those in the carpet business flocked to the country and settled there.  And ISI along with some Kashmiri outfits, especially Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, found a safe sanctuary in houses of their Kashmiri brothers, and exploited their presence to the hilt.

In Kathmandu, it is the Pakistani embassy which not only provides a safe nest for ISI operatives but also serves as their headquarters.  Intelligence sources say that half of the embassy officials work for ISI, with a counselor-rank diplomat as the chef-de-mission.  The Pakistani embassy's role in helping ISI first surfaced in 1992 with the arrest of a hotelier in Kathmandu.  In March 1992, a Pakistani film producer Shaukat Ali persuaded one Meena Raj Bhandari to lease his Kathmandu-based  hotel Karnali to a Pakistani couple-Raja Irafanullah and Zahida Awam for a hefty sum.  They appointed one Pakistani Asad Bajwa as a chef who, however, practically acted as a boss.  But within a year, Bhandari got to know that his hotel had become a bastion for ISI operatives as it was always flooded with Pakistanis.  Gul Rehman, who was the then political secretary in the Pakistani diplomatic mission and third secretary Imtiaz frequently visited the hotel.  Following some complaints, Nepalese authorities raided the hotel and arrested Irfan.  However, he was soon let off.

Even in Saboor's case, it is alleged that an embassy official prevailed over the Nepalese authorities in letting him off without any investigation.  It is alleged that the day Saboor's house was besieged by the Nepal Police, Pakistani Ambassador in Kathmandu met Sujata Koirala, the daughter of Prime Minister,  G P Koirala at a Chinese restaurant in the posh Kathmandu Plaza shopping complex and asked for her intervention.  Following this, Saboor was merely expelled from the embassy without any interrogation or arrest.  An External Affairs Ministry official in New Delhi confirmed the odd meeting but felt that Koirala had no role in it.

However, a senior Indian Journalist in Kathmandu, says that Pakistan has since 1947 used Nepal as its convenient base for anti-India operations.  He says: "It is a nexus between the Shahi Darbar (the seat of the Nepal's King), the Singh Darbar (the seat of the Nepalese government) and Pakistan. In fact, the Nepalese government is more dangerous for India.  The ISI's presence in Nepal poses much more serious threat to India than its presence in Jammu and Kashmir.  In J&K, we can quell it by force, but here we have to remain a silent spectator."

That Nepal Police is ill-equipped to deal with the high-tech methods of ISI' s subversive operation.  The arrest and subsequent release of Lakhbir Singh in Kathmandu is a classis case.  Lakhbir was arrested by the Nepal Police on charge of possessing a huge cache of explosives including 18.75 kgs of RDX in a raid on November 19, 1998, which was supposed to be smuggled into India.  But in the absence of any stringent law, he was released by the district court after a year in custody.  Lakhbir had been working for Pakistan-based Ranjit Singh Nitta of the Khalistan Commando Force.  Lakhbir during his interrogation reportedly revealed names of the three Pakistani embassy officials in Kathmandu who were allegedly involved in the supply of explosives.

Intelligence officials say that the hijacking of the Indian Airlines' flight IC814 in December 1999 could have also been averted but for similar reasons. According to one senior official, certain loopholes in the security system at the Tribuvan International Airport were identified by Nepal's Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on security in May 1998, which submitted its report in June 1999.  The JPC in its report had pointed out the non-functioning of the close circuit TVs and the absence of metal detectors which are normally applied for physical frisking.  But the government failed to take any action on this report.

The arrest of Mufti Mehrajuddin Farooqi, an ex-additional Advocate General of Jammu and Kashmir on February 13, 1992, further gave credence to Pakistani embassy's involvement in ani-India activities through Nepal. During his interrogation, Farooqi is said to have disclosed details of his meetings with a second secretary of the Pakistan High Commission and some ISI operatives during a visit to Nepal in 1991.

After the Bombay blasts in March  1993, a number of the accused mainly belonging to the underworld fled from India and took refuge in Nepal.  At this stage, Kathmandu virtually became the Kumbha of underworld operators and terrorist organizations.  Punjab militants were running for their lives in the wake of the then DGP, K P S Gill's crackdown on their outfits.  The Liberation Tiger of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) guerillas were having a tough time in Sri Lanka, and the Mumbai Mafia world had been looking for a new venue in South Asia.  And here, Nepal's weak immigration rules and lax security system came handy for all of them.

The arrest of one of the prime accused in the Bombay blasts case, Yaqub Memon from the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu on July 24, 1994 (though Nepal government had denied it) proves this point.

The emergence of Eastern UP's mafia king Mirza Dilshad Beg in Nepal politics and his subsequent induction as a minister in the government came as shot in terrorist groups was common knowledge.  Today Kathmandu-based known underworld operator and Dawood Ibrahim's henchman Zamin Shah runs the biggest cable network 'Space Time Network' in Nepal.  It is also alleged that the family of a prominent politician holds a good number of shares in this business.  In Kathmandu, Darbar road-based eating outlet and some jewellery shops are believed to have been run by the Mumbai mafia world.

Girija Prasad Koirala has once again become the Prime Minister of the country.  Considering the alleged proximity of his family with Pakistan intelligence sources wonder whether he would be able to rein in the ISI activities in Nepal.

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