In a recently released report, Country Report on Terrorism 2018, the US State Department said that that Indian Mujahideen (IM), which has ties with Pakistan-based terror groups Lashkar e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Harakat ul-Jihad Islami, is using Nepal as a hub to carry out terrorist activities against India.
While Nepal has not directly engaged or experienced any major incidents of terror, there is ample information that suggests that the Himalayan country, with which India shares an open border, is becoming a rising hub for terror organisations to use it as a base to launch attacks on Indian territory.
The US report states, "Due to Nepal's open border with India and insufficient security protocols at the country's sole international airport in Kathmandu, Nepal has been, and could continue to be, used as a transit or starting point for international terrorists."
Country Report on Terrorism 2018
The report published in October said that the IM, designated as a foreign terrorist organisation by the US since September 2011, is suspected of obtaining funding and support from sources in Pakistan and the Middle East and that it has expanded its area of operations in Nepal.
"IM maintains ties to other terrorist entities including Pakistan-based LeT, JeM and Harakat ul-Jihad Islami. The IM's stated goal is to carry out terrorist actions against Indians for their oppression of Muslims. IM has also expanded its area of operations into Nepal, which is now the biggest hub for IM operatives," the report said.
IM is known for carrying out multiple coordinated bombings in crowded areas against economic and civilian targets to maximise terror and casualties.
The IM has been responsible for dozens of bomb attacks throughout India since 2005, causing deaths of hundreds of civilians. The report incorporated various incidents of bombings in Nepal in 2017 and 2018.
Among three incidents, the report mentions the use of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) at a compound wall inside the India-funded Arun-3 Hydel Project in Nepal just ahead of inaugural by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The report has cautioned Nepal that it can be used as a transit or staging point for international terrorists because of lapses and inadequate security measures.
"Due to Nepal's open border with India and insufficient security protocols at the country's sole international airport in Kathmandu, Nepal has and could continue to be used as a transit or staging point for international terrorists," the report stated.
Open border gives way to lax security
The report pointed out that security measures at Nepal's airport were weak and inadequate. "Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport, Nepal's only international airport, does not pre-screen passengers, and landing data are not entered into any database. Physical security checks of passengers are rudimentary. There is no travel document security and the airport lacks ultraviolet lights to examine documents," the report stated.
The US government report also mentioned that Nepal lacks proper screening of the passengers with that of the INTERPOL database.
"The Special Bureau of the Nepal Police assigns approximately 10 personnel to the airport and approximately 15 officers to its INTERPOL national central bureau, which is located at Nepal Police headquarters. INTERPOL notices are maintained in a database, but passengers are not routinely screened through this database. Security and immigration officials are generally responsive to US requests for information, but often have little information to provide," it said.
"Nepal shares an open border with India. The 1,000-mile border has a few checkpoints, but there is a lack of sufficient security controls; for example, only one immigration official may be present at the checkpoint. Thus, most people crossing the border are neither stopped nor checked, and the crossing points can easily be circumvented to avoid scrutiny," the report said.
Besides Nepal emerging as a hub for illegal and criminal activities, the counterfeit currency racket is another big challenge posing for India.
Three years after India demonetised high currency notes as a crackdown measure to curb black money in the country, according to ANI, Pakistan has started producing, smuggling and circulating better quality Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) to finance illicit activities and militant groups, including the LeT and its affiliates, JeM.
Senior officials reveal that a large amount of counterfeit currency from Pakistan is making its way into India using pre-2016 system and infrastructure- of gangs, their syndicate, channels, and routes.
Most surprisingly, Pakistan has been misusing diplomatic channels in Nepal, Bangladesh and other countries to bring and distribute consignments of these fake Indian currency notes.
Sources reportedly told ANI that Islamic State (IS), manages to create this currency of better visual quality than the earlier photocopied notes.
In May 2019, a recently released D-company associate, Younus Ansari, was arrested with three Pakistani nationals at Kathmandu Airport with a huge consignment of Indian currency totalling Indian Rs 76.7 million. Interestingly, the same associate, Ansari was arrested a few years ago in Nepal for conspiring to implement a hit-job on an Indian diplomat in Kathmandu.
Before demonetisation, the Pakistani Embassy in Kathmandu was the nerve centre for FICN operations and used Birgunj Town as its vital transit point for almost all fake currency notes entering India.
Sources reveal that ISI had set up a large network of agents from Kathmandu to Birganj and all along the border, to push consignments of FICN from Nepal into India. "ISI transported fake notes through the state-owned Pakistan International Airlines, or through the diplomatic bag to its Missions in Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, and Doha", sources revealed.
They added, "From these locations, couriers brought consignments on PIA or other international flights to Kathmandu or Dhaka".
The role of organised criminal groups in the production of counterfeit currency was elaborated in FATF's 2013 report. It cited the case of a seizure in February 2012 of counterfeit Indian Rupees concealed in a shipping consignment from Pakistan via Hong Kong, China to Nepal.
According to an Economic Times report, while investigating the hacking of Nepal's Rashtra Bank, Nepal police stumbled had upon several accounts in which money was deposited from other countries. This money was allegedly used especially for funding anti-India activities, backed by Pakistani account holders.
In what is deemed as one of the most dramatic hostage terror crisis the country has ever seen, the Indian Airlines flight IC-814 on its way back to Delhi from Kathmandu was taken over by five Pakistani hijackers with 180 passengers and crew on board. This is another example of that indicates how Nepal is used as a playground for Pakistan terror groups to carry out anti-India activities.
Back in 2013, Indian intelligence agencies were cheered for their breakthrough of making two big arrests within a span of two weeks. One of them was Abdul Karim Tunda, one of India's wanted terrorists, and mastermind of over 40 bombings in India and the other, IM co-founder Yasin Bhatkal, both of whom were arrested from Nepal, point to towards the vulnerability of a porous boundary and indicate a growing need for a crackdown on terror organisations making use of an open border.
With inputs from ANI