Any counter-terrorism act must be defined as a national security policy. First and foremost, Nepal should establish a counter-terrorism mechanism at the centre under the Nepal Army's leadership, where the Nepal Army, Nepal Police, Armed Police Force and National Department of Investigation can work together to address the issue of terrorism
Afghanistan is burning with the heat of war. A nightmare has just begun for South Asia with the rise of the Taliban. It has captured more than 85 per cent of the territory, and all border crossings with Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and China are now firmly under its control. The Taliban's first and foremost goal is the strategic control of Afghanistan to create an Islamic emirate. Undeniably, the South Asia region will serve as the fulcrum for future global security.
The Taliban had risen to power in the chaotic years following the exit of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989.In 1996, the Taliban seized Kabul and declared Afghanistan an Islamic emirate, which imposed strict Islamic law in the country. But the Taliban regime collapsed in 2001 following attacks on the twin towers in New York by al-Qaeda that had found sanctuary in Afghanistan.
Since 2001, American troops have been in Afghanistan to fight terrorism there. More than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed and 20,000 wounded in the war on terror since 2001.
Another 3,800 U.S. private security contractors, 100,000 Afghan civilians and almost 66,000 Afghan soldiers have also lost their lives. More than 2.7 million have been forced to flee their homes to Iran and Pakistan.
But after 20 years of its presence, the Joe Biden administration in April this year took a bold decision to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021.Afghan forces are losing ground to the Taliban with each passing day.
To save their lives, civilians as well as Afghan soldiers are entering neighbouring countries, and Afghanistan is on the cusp of witnessing one of the biggest humanitarian crises ever.
With the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, other terrorist groups are now in high spirits in South Asia.
The Taliban has strong allies in state and non-state actors. It has the support of al-Qaeda, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, ISIS, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Laskar-e- Toiba in the establishment of an Islamic state. More than a dozen terrorist groups have a forceful presence in South Asia. Thus, from a security standpoint, Nepal cannot stay aloof from the conflict in Afghanistan, which could pose a serious threat to our security.
Nepal has been cooperating to tackle terrorism since the establishment of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). However, Nepal has not signed any agreement with any country to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, although solidarity against terrorism seems to have been expressed at various international security conferences.
On December 24, 1999, an Indian Airlines aircraft was hijacked by terrorists from Nepal's soil. When the hijackers landed in Afghanistan, the Taliban authorities offered to mediate between India and the hijackers.
On June 20, 2016, 14 Nepali security guards were killed when a suicide bomber attacked the minibus they were travelling in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul.
The attack was carried out by the Taliban.The above incidents are only representative events. And in the past few years, Syed Abdul Karim 'Tunda', who masterminded several bombings in India, Yasin Bhatkal, co-founder of the Indian Mujahedeen, and Nirajan Hojai, a separatist military commander, have tried to enter Nepal.
Kathmandu-based embassies of the United States, Western countries, Israel and India as well as projects funded by them could, thus, be potential targets.
Afghan refugees could start streaming into Nepal via Indian territory. Terrorists can develop Nepal as a meeting point or transit shelter to target India.
Terrorists have no religion, but they can infiltrate through religious crusades and by investing in religious schools to hide their true identity. To create disharmony in society, they can offer huge donations in the name of religion. By destroying Nepal's peaceful image, terrorist organisations can seek attention.
Countering violent extremism and terrorism is no easy task. The constitution must provide a clear mandate to engage in such a task. Moreover, any counter-terrorism act must be defined as a national security policy. First and foremost, Nepal should establish a counter-terrorism mechanism at the centre under the Nepal Army's leadership, where the Nepal Army, Nepal Police, Armed Police Force and National Department of Investigation can work together to address the issue of terrorism. The Armed Police Force (APF) could establish such an apex specialised unit along the border and at the province-level as it has a clear mandate from the government to control terrorist activities within the country. In addition, for a long time, the Nepal Police has a special bureau working in this field. If the government were to provide them with enough resources, they can easily monitor terrorist activities round the clock.
Also, our public law allows the Nepal Police to detain people, making it easy to investigate and interrogate.
In this way, if a major terrorist incident were to happen, the Nepal Army's lead team can be engaged any time anywhere. APF specialised forces can be mobilised to control armed rebellion, separatist activities or terrorist activities in the border zone or at the province level.
The Department of Money Laundering Investigation needs to strictly monitor sources of big money.
We should install modern technical surveillance equipment at international airports. A counter-terrorism mechanism must include a communication interception system, spy software and spy gear. An effective and regulated border can help control infiltration from the border. A facial recognition camera is needed to check people at border crossings.
We should not take the Afghan crisis lightly. Nepal should adopt vigilance in time. Otherwise, we may have to pay a high price in the future. Nepal can adopt multiple approaches to fighting terrorism based on key objectives. Intelligence information sharing is indispensable to thwart terrorism in the region.
Adhikari is a researcher.
A version of this article appears in the print on July 23 2021, of The Himalayan Times.