July 7, 2016


[Thus, Bangladeshi jihadi elements - of whatever particular stripe or persuasion - can easily slip into a Kathmandu that is filled not merely with 'non-believers' and 'idolaters' but also with swarms of Western tourists who often congregate in popular restaurants and other 'soft targets', a la the Dhaka cafe were the horrendous massacre of innocents occurred.]

                                                                          By M. R. Josse 
A bustling city of Kathmandu before the devastating earthquakes of 2015
KATHMANDU: In this space last week, I endeavoured to identify a few basic geopolitical lessons from the stunning 23 June, 2016 Brexit verdict. One was encapsulated, thus: "It is simply suicidal for Nepal to continue the myth that our open border with India - with the second largest population on planet earth - is something to be treasured. It should be done away with - the sooner, the better."

The other takeaway was so embedded: "Given that our open border with India has - according to knowledgeable sources both indigenous as well as extra-regional - morphed into a badlands attracting not merely black-marketers and profiteers but also an assortment of terrorists - from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan - as well, it is high time to jettison the outmoded notion that our open border with India is a geopolitical blessing."

Now Add Bangladesh

With the recent sanguinary terror attack in Dhaka in which Islamic militants killed and hacked 20 innocent people, most of them foreigners and non-Muslims, I would hasten to add 'Bangladesh' to the trifecta of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

I should now underline and remind readers that not only is the territory of Bangladesh (a) just a stone's throw away from the open Nepal-India border but (b) that Bangladeshi infiltration into India has been a permanent feature of Indo-Bangla relations ever since Bangladesh's creation out of East Pakistan in December 1971.  

Thus, Bangladeshi jihadi elements - of whatever particular stripe or persuasion - can easily slip into a Kathmandu that is filled not merely with 'non-believers' and 'idolaters' but also with swarms of Western tourists who often congregate in popular restaurants and other 'soft targets', a la the Dhaka cafe were the horrendous massacre of innocents occurred.

Indeed, the exodus from Bangladesh has been so troubling to India - and perhaps, to a lesser degree, to Bangladesh - that the two countries decided some years ago to construct border fencing along their 4,096 km frontier. According to a recent Times of India news report, that project is to be completed by 2017. Incidentally, it raises this pertinent question: if border fencing between territories that were once part and parcel of the same country is considered kosher, why should a suggestion for a similar scheme for the open 1,868 km Nepal-India border be considered heretical, since Nepal and India were never components of one integral nation?

But, coming back to the horrific madness of the Dhaka slayings by Islamic radicals - whether the perpetrators were dyed-in-the-wool Islamic State (IS) acolytes or merely a blood-thirsty band of brothers of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladeshi terror outfit - for the world at large what matters is that the thugs were committed to spreading terror against innocent non-Muslims, especially those associated with the United States and her allies in their so-called 'war against terror'.

Unfortunately Nepal, too, comes into the picture, even if only incidentally, as has graphically underscored by the recent tragic murder in Kabul, via bomb explosion of their vehicle, of 13 Nepali nationals (along with two Indians) working as private security guards in the Canadian embassy in Afghanistan.

Kabul Killing

Any notion that their slaughter was not a deliberate act against those hapless victims - and Nepal - should be dismissed out of hand. As much is established by the new Taliban leader in Afghanistan Haibatullah Akhundzada's recent public statement, issued, we are informed via the media, to mark the Muslim festival of Eid - which, incidentally, came a mere two days after Taliban-claimed suicide blasts targeted a convoy of buses transporting Afghan police cadets in Kabul killing over 30 people and wounding more than 70.

After excoriating the United States for its invasion of Afghanistan and challenging it to a confrontation, Akhundzada also called on neighbouring countries "to join the fight against the US", saying the presence of Americans would "harm our mutual interests" and "destabilize the whole region."

As he put it, "You are expected to join your voice with that of the Afghans to end the occupation or at least to not take steps which could contribute to prolongation of presence of the Americans."

Given that the Nepali security guards were working for the Canadians, allies of the United States in the 'war on terror', it clearly cooked their goose and made them legitimate targets for the Taliban, as Akhundzada's statement makes agonizingly plain in retrospect. 

While leaving our high priests of foreign policy and clued up public policy formulators to ponder what needs be done in respect of doing away with blindly 'exporting' Nepali manpower abroad, even to conflict or jihad-prone regions, I would like, once again, to return to the main theme of this column: the absolute urgency of abolishing the open Nepal-India border, replacing it with arrangements that return control of the border to the two respective countries via universally accepted border control mechanisms.

Open Wound On Body Politic

Quite apart from the now increasingly evident costs of maintaining an open border between a country of some 28 million people and another with 1.3 billion souls, the sheer lunacy of continuing to do so is further underlined by a recent development vis-a-vis the border trade between Nepal and China.

As per a news report in the Kathmandu Post (1 July) entitled, 'China closes Korala border', one is told that "the Chinese authorities closed the border after people of Indian origin started entering China with leaflets of Dalai Lama". What this means is that the porous border with India not only makes it possible for those planning terrorists attacks on Indian targets to come in, but also for anti-Chinese elements to sneak into China after having first sailed through our gaping southern border.

Given the lack of effective governance and the dizzy level of corruption in 'loktantrik' (democratic) Nepal, it can only be a matter of time before our once-peaceful land is transformed into an Afghanistan.

Do away with the open border, for God's sake!