India’s Intelligence Agencies Have A New Headache — Nepal Is Reemerging As A Safe-Haven For Islamists 

India’s Intelligence Agencies Have A New Headache — Nepal Is Reemerging As A Safe-Haven For Islamists 

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Monday, February 3, 2020 03:38 PM IST
India’s Intelligence Agencies Have A New Headache — Nepal Is Reemerging As A Safe-Haven For Islamists Prime Minister Modi, MEA Jaishankar and NSA Ajit Doval
  • Nepal was a safe-haven for Indian islamists and terrorists in the 90s and early 2000s

    The old days are coming back, it seems.

Nepal is once again emerging as a safe haven for Indian Islamist radicals and terrorists who are getting help from sections of Nepal’s own Islamists.

The Himalayan country had become a major base and shelter for criminals and terror-accused from India from the late 1980s till the middle of the new millennium's first decade.

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had a free run in Nepal, thanks to overt and covert support from Nepal’s ruling elite, including sections of the erstwhile royal family.

However, with the end of both the monarchy and the Maoist insurgency in that country, Pakistan’s influence dwindled.

New Delhi also leaned heavily on Nepal’s new rulers to tighten the screws on pro-Pakistani elements and those providing shelter to criminals, especially those belonging to the ‘D Company’, in Nepal.

The assassination of the notorious Indian-origin Nepal parliamentarian Mirza Dilshad Beg — a close associate of Dawood Ibrahim — in 1998 marked the beginning of the end of Pakistan’s toxic influence in Nepal.

However, radical Islam is once again gaining ground in Nepal and the Islamists there have started encouraging and sheltering Indian Islamists.

Indian intelligence agencies say there are two reasons for this: One, the rising Wahabi influence over Nepal’s Muslims and, two, the ascension to power of Nepal’s communists.

The growing radicalisation of Nepal’s Muslims is the direct fallout of the mushrooming of Wahhabi madrassas and mosques, especially in the districts along Nepal’s border with India.

There has, according to Nepal’s own admission, been a sudden spurt in the number of such institutions teaching and preaching the regressive and radical Wahhabi Islam.

What’s more, these institutions are funded liberally by Pakistan, Turkey and some Middle-Eastern countries. The agenda, according to Indian intelligence agencies, is to breed and nurture a radical Islamist population in Nepal that can be, and is being, used to aid Islamist radicals in India.

The 1,758-kilometer-long Indo-Nepal border is an open and porous one and the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty provides for free movement of people of both the countries across this border.

This is exactly what India’s radical Islamists and terror-accused are taking advantage of.  Senior officers of the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), which is tasked with guarding this international border, say it is impossible to keep an effective watch on the movements of people through the open border.

“Due to the shared ethnicity between people of Madhes (as the terai region is known as) in Nepal and those on this side of the border, it is easy for people to slip into Nepal and avoid detection there. Of late, Islamist radicals of Nepal and India have developed strong ties,” said a senior officer of the Intelligence Bureau (IB).

The recent case of Jalees Ansari, also known as ‘Dr Bomb’, illustrates this. Ansari, convicted in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, jumped parole from Mumbai on January 16 and was nabbed after a massive manhunt from Kanpur the next day.

UP Police said he was planning to flee to Nepal.

“Ansari’s disappearance was well orchestrated and a Pakistan-backed terror module in Nepal’s Banke district, which has a large concentration of Muslims, was tasked with facilitating his entry into Nepal and providing him with a shelter there. Had he managed to slip into Nepal, it would have been impossible to get him back,” said the senior IB officer.

The foreign-funded madrassas and mosques that have come up in Banke and other border districts with large Muslim populations like Mahottari, Rautahat, Parsa, Kapilavastu, Sunsari and Bara are the nerve-centres of anti-Indian forces operating with impunity in Nepal.

According to the IB officer, clerics and terror operatives of the Pakistan-backed modules in Nepal living in these districts provide shelter to fugitives and terror accused from India, get them registered through fraudulent means as citizens of Nepal and then help them escape to other countries (read this).

Indian intelligence believes that the modal body for handling escapes, providing safe havens and procuring false identities for Muslim terrorists and criminals from India is the Islami Sangh Nepal (ISN).

Purportedly a socio-religious and charitable body, the ISN draws inspiration from  Sayyed Abul Ala Mawdudi, the propounder of Islamist revivalism in the Indian subcontinent.

The Islamic State and many other terror outfits also draw inspiration from Mawdudi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami.

“The ISN is believed to have close links with Pakistan and a lot of funds that it receives from foreign donors in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and some other countries is suspected to be routed through the ISN’s Pakistani handlers,” said the IB officer.

A number of criminals from India, especially from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, flee to Nepal after committing crimes. They have also been involved in criminal activities there (read this), and have thus turned into a major headache for Nepal’s own law enforcement bodies.

New Delhi has been alerting Nepal about the activities of Pakistan’s ISI in Nepal and the growing radicalisation of the country’s Muslims through foreign-funded madrassas and mosques.

But many among the country’s communist rulers, including Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, are decidedly anti-Indian.

“Powerful sections within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) are ill-disposed towards India and firmly pro-China. Beijing has been using its influence over them to facilitate a greater role for Pakistan to carry out its anti-India activities from Nepal’s soil,” said a retired officer of the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW).

Given all these factors, the only way out for New Delhi is to impress upon the political leadership of Nepal about the grave dangers in allowing Pakistan and its proxies to act with impunity from its soil.

“Nepal has to realise that allowing Pakistan and Islamist agencies any leeway is fraught with grave dangers for Nepal itself. Radical Islam is a hydra-headed monster that will eventually pose a threat to Nepal, and so, it must be taken out immediately,” said a foreign service officer who had served in the Indian mission in Kathmandu till a year ago.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has been working towards this for some years, but the results are mixed. China, which has Pakistan under its wings, has overwhelming influence over the political leadership in Nepal and would not like Kathmandu to clamp down on anti-India activities.

But one influential section within the NCP, as well as in Nepal’s security and diplomatic establishments, fully understand India’s viewpoints and the dangers (from Pakistan-backed Islamist radicals) that New Delhi has been flagging.

The senior diplomat said that the only way out is to deepen India’s engagement with Nepal’s political, diplomatic, military, internal security and bureaucratic establishments and also with that country’s society at large.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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