EDITORIAL: Matter of concern

When the customs at the TIA and along the borders are considered to be lucrative postings, you know something is amiss

The Country Report on Terrorism-2018, published by the US Department of State, identifying Nepal as the biggest hub for Indian Mujahideen operatives, is a matter of great concern, and the government must take serious note of this. According to the report, the Indian Mujahideen, a terrorist group responsible for carrying out dozens of blasts across India since 2005, has expanded its area of operations into Nepal. What makes Nepal fertile ground for terrorist groups is that it shares a 1,850-km poorly regulated open border with its southern neighbour on three sides while the security controls at the only international airport in the country are far from adequate. Until now, terrorist groups have not operated from Nepal on a large scale largely because this country has not figured on their radar screen. But with foreign governments cracking down on terrorist operations across the globe, such groups will look for fragile countries like Nepal from where they can carry on with their pursuit. Thus, as the report notes, Nepal could continue to be used as a transit or staging point for international terrorists.

Although sporadic in nature, Nepal has seen acts of terrorism take place on its soil, some drawing international attention. In December 1999, an Airbus belonging to Indian Airlines with 178 passengers on board was hijacked after it took off from Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). On other occasions, people, including a minister, have been gunned down by sharp shooters who just walked into Nepal from India and walked out just as easily. Regulating the porous border with India is difficult what with the people on either side avoiding the checkpoints to cross it. Even at the checkpoints, it is rare for anyone to be stopped or checked. Tens of thousands of people on either side cross the border everyday for work or for shopping without any need for valid documents.

Now that the US government report has cautioned Nepal against the possiblity of turning into a terrorist hub, the government must make a strong resolve to demoralise any such group from acting against any country through enhanced security controls along the open border and at the TIA. This, however, will not come easy given the resource constraints in updating technology, buying equipment and training personnel. Widespread corruption is a big factor preventing enhanced security at the customs. Otherwise how could Nepali labourers have landed up in countries like Iraq and Syria, banned by the government for employment? Or how could gold in the kilos be smuggled into the country regularly through the TIA and smuggled out by land? When the customs at the TIA and along the borders are considered to be lucrative postings, you know something is amiss. The Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism regime will also require a lot more doing to become effective, as suggested by the report, such as developing expertise in financial crimes prevention, investigation, case management and border control. Wedged between two big countries with big security concerns, Nepal can ill afford to become a ground for subversive activities aimed against them or against any other country.

Sikta in limbo

The multi-billion-rupee Sikta Irrigation Project, which is supposed to irrigate 64,000 hectares of land in Banke, has been in limbo due to the contractor’s negligence. As per the initial contract signed in 2015, the national pride project is supposed to be complete by November-end. But there is no sign that the contractor will be able to complete the remaining works of the main and subsidiary canals. The contractor has blamed the dispersive soil in some section of the main canal and rowdy locals, who are demanding ‘commission’ for the delay in completing the work on time.

A study conducted by the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation in August found that, while designing the canal, the consultant had not carried out proper test of the soil structure along the canal, which is why the canal has been damaged on two occasions. Meanwhile, irrigation Minister Barsha Man Pun visited the project site the other day and asked the contractor – Kalika Construction – to complete the remaining part within the deadline. He also gave assurances that legal action would be taken against those who create obstruction in the project. At the same time, the ministry should take action against the consultant firm for carrying out a faulty study.