THERE WAS an unmistakable message in India's invitation to Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to be the chief guest at the Republic Day Parade on January 26th : The message was that India and Algeria as victims of terrorism shared common concerns and intended to fight terrorism on a common plank.
Although many thousand miles apart, terrorism in Algeria is also motivated and driven by the Pakistan-Afghanistan connection. Like in India, terrorism in Algeria kicked off as the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and the Mujahideen holy warriors fought each other for the spoils of Kabul with Pakistan backing different factions.
There is however one vital difference. Western scholars like John Cooley emphasize that Islamist terrorism in Algeria was only aggravated and taken to extremes by the Algerian Afghanis who had fought in Afghanistan. Its roots, however, can be traced back to 1830 when Algeria became a French colony. As part of a deliberate policy to devalue and discredit the Islamic basis of Algerian society, French citizenship was offered to all those Algerians who removed themselves from the jurisdiction of Islamic Sharia law. Although few took up the offer, it led to a situation where all those Algerians with a liberal European education were looked on with suspicion and mistrust by the larger Muslim community and especially the ulema and religious intellectuals. The mistrust persisted even when the liberals spearheaded Algeria's fight for independence from France, 1954-62.
After independence, Islamism began to grow steadily especially in religious schools and mosques in Algiers, Oran. Constantine and Medea. These cities soon became centres of militant Islamic thought. Medea, for instance, in 1994 was the centre of guerrilla operations.
The rise of the religious right was helped in no small measure by the failure of the government on many fronts. Socialist models in agricultural and industrial development did not measure up to expectations and the collapse of world oil prices in the mid 1980s threw thousands out of work and fueled public discontent. Unrest took a violent turn in October 1988 and it was around this time that sermons were heard inciting Algerians to learn from the Afghan jihad, cleanse society and politics of the corruption of the ruling FLN party and prepare for God's kingdom on earth.
The role of Algerian citizens in the Afghan jihad is little known but is crucial for the purpose of understanding the nature of terrorism that has ravaged Algeria for the last decade at a cost of around 100,000 lives. Among the many Muslims whom the CIA recruited from all over the world to fight in the Afghan jihad, there were 2,000 Algerians. They were trained in guerrilla tactics, in preparing and carrying out ambushes and demolitions. Training was imparted by Pakistan's ISI in camps funded by the CIA. These tactics are proudly acknowledged by Brig Mohammad Youssaf in his book The Bear Trap.
The Pakistani connection was even more visible during anti-government riots in June 1991, when Algerian security arrested scores of Sudanese and Pakistanis from a mosque in the Algiers suburb of Harrach. Many who were arrested and later amnestied fled to Pakistan or Afghanistan.
One of them Abdelkader Benouis moved to Saudi Arabia where he became involved in raising funds for Osama bin Laden, funds that were sent to aid Algerian Islamists. Sentenced to death in Algeria, he found refuge in France but was expelled soon after to Pakistan. From there he was tracked to Belgium and then Britain. As late as 1998, the Algerian and Tunisian governments were demanding his extradition from a reluctant Prime Minister Tony Blair.
In the final three years of the Afghan war 1986-89, the Pakistani Embassy in Algiers issued 2,800 visas to Algerians heading for Pakistan. Many were recruited by the Tablighi Jamaat, an extremist religious group indigenous to India and South Asia. The Jamaat played a leading role in recruiting young North Africans for religious instruction in Pakistan later leading to training in the Afghan jihad. The Tablighi adherents spread the message that a puritanical Islamic state in Algeria was the only hope.
The Tablighi Jamaat was one of four Islamic groups that came together to form the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). It was founded in a mosque in a poor quarter of Algiers under the supervision of its Imam Ali Belhadj, who became deputy leader of the FIS. It's chief became Sheikh Abbas Madani who provided intellectual sustenance while Belhadj preached fiery sermons and was more extremist in his views. Building on popular discontent over unemployment and high prices and using its network of mosques and Islamic charities, the FIS with its avowedly Islamic plank, won a plurality of votes during phase one of balloting in Algeria's first free elections in December 1991. It took up arms when the Algerian army cancelled the second decisive round of polls and imposed martial law in January 1992.
Many have argued that Algeria would have been better served if the FIS had been allowed its victory. In time, they say, FIS extremism would have run its course and then the party would have charted a more moderate path, which is what happened in Iran. However, that is water under the bridge and the past cannot be undone.
Funds for the FIS initially came from Saudi Arabia but ended in 1990 when Madani went to Iraq and declared his support for President Saddam Hussein. According to Algerian security officials, largesse from Osama bin Laden helped facilitate the return of Afghan veterans with false passports and sometimes company work papers. Between 600-1,000 returned home either officially, or with help from bin Laden, sneaking in through the Moroccan or Tunisian deserts. Algerian sociologist Mahfoud Bennoune states that "the nucleus of the terrorist movement in Algeria had combat experience in Afghanistan."
The Islamist insurrection began in Nov 29, 1991 when Aissa Messaoudi known as Tayeb al-Afghani, an active FIS member who had fought in Afghanistan post-1989, led an attack on a border guards barracks, slitting the throats of the young guards. He was later tried and executed. Scholars say this marked the birth of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), a rabidly anti-foreign, anti-Christian and even more militant version of the FIS.
The GIA mainly recruits among former Algerian volunteers trained in guerilla tactics by the Afghan freedom fighters and others who fought in Bosnia, as well as among young men from the most disadvantaged social groups. Many members of the dissolved FIS joined its ranks and local gangs of petty criminals and dealers are also said to be mixed up in its activities. It is difficult to evaluate precisely the structure and size of the GIA (estimated at about 10,000 men) because it is composed of so many more or less autonomous groups controlled by as many emirs (although a single command unit exists).
GIA leader Jaafar al-Afghani is credited with the attacks on foreigners, on intellectuals, journalists, women and children. His aim was to intimidate the largely neutral rural population, leading to one of the first splits in the GIA. It's believed this split led to an informer tipping off the Algerian army about Jaafar al-Afghani's whereabouts and to his killing during Ramzan in 1994.
Kamreddine Kharban was another Afghan veteran. Apparently trained as an air force pilot in Algeria, he quit service in 1983 and went to Peshawar. Here he and another Algerian volunteer Bounoua Boudjema also known as Abu Anes, sought Osama bin Laden's help in setting up an "Afghan Legion" to fight in Algeria. Boudjema incidentally is married to the daughter of Palestine leader Abdullah Azzam, one of the ideological founders of Hamas whom the CIA used as a recruiter for the Afghan jihad in the US. Khabran later returned to Algeria preaching in a mosque near Algiers appropriately called Kabul. This became the base for the early GIA covert guerrilla cells of men like Tayeb, who like other Afghan returnees, shared their military expertise with the GIA.
Afghanis are blamed for burning down as many as 600 schools and several universities and stepping up attacks on teachers and institutions of learning. This has dramatic parallels with Afghanistan where the Taliban and their ideological forbears view schools as breeding grounds for Marxism and westernization. The Afghanis didn't look like Algerians since they wore turbans, ate on the floor with their hands, used twigs instead of toothbrushes and put kohl around their eyes. These are South Asian practices.
Women's emancipation is viewed as a great threat to cultural identity. In fact, Algerians blame the Afghanis for introducing into their country "marriages of convenience", a euphemism to kidnap and rape a woman which is considered the right of holy warriors. This was widely reported in Afghanistan in the 1990s and has also been seen in Kashmir. According to an Algerian judge, the most abominable crimes were committed by the Afghan returnees. He says: "A certain number were trained by our Pakistani friends to handle explosives, whether for operations in Afghanistan or elsewhere is an open question. They say we believe god told us to kill."
The GIA seems to have split last year into national (Djazarist) and international (Salafi) fragments. Some GIA veterans, apparently tired of the slaughter at home, turned to terrorism abroad with the apparent support of Osama bin Laden. Algerian Ahmed Ressam arrested at Port Angeles in Washington in December 1999, was trying to smuggle explosives into the country from Canada for Christmas, New Year millenium celebrations, belonged to this international GIA.
The election of President Bouteflika in April 1999, has been a turning point in the civil war. After the cease-fire proclaimed by the FIS in June, the President pardoned 2,300 jailed Islamists and presented to Parliament the "National Harmony Law" providing mainly for an amnesty for armed members and supporters of the FIS. The proposals contained in the law were submitted to a referendum on 16 September 1999 and got massive support from voters (98 per cent).
The announcement of the referendum led to a surge of violence from the GIA in the weeks before it took place, but it seems that the GIA is more and more isolated. Nevertheless, through cruel massacres perpetrated now and then, it reminds people that the Islamic campaign is not yet totally over.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Media reports indicate that India will be sharing its experience with Algeria in combating terrorism. This would also include exchange of information and intelligence about terrorist groups, their movements, operations and source of funding. The visit of the Algerian leader must also be seen in the larger context of India making a special effort to reach out to the Islamic world. Prime Minister Vajpayee was in Indonesia recently and Jaswant Singh became the first External Affairs Minister to visit Saudi Arabia and interact with the top leadership.
Indonesia forms a major plank in India's look east policy because it is the biggest Muslim country in the world in terms of population yet is secular in orientation and committed to preserving its multiethnic fabric. Besides, it straddles key oil routes and lies not far from the Andaman chain.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally enjoyed close ties with Pakistan and was one of the main financiers of the Afghan jihad. But the Saudi leadership appears to have distanced itself from the Taliban, at least publicly, in recent years and stripped Osama bin Laden of his citizenship. Although it's not clear if the Saudis are trying to stop the flow of private funds to jihadi groups in Pakistan and other countries, they are worried over the activities of these groups and the destabilizing influence it could have in their own country.
With a new leadership set to take over the kingdom, India's diplomatic initiative is therefore timely. It is not Pakistan-centric although Jaswant Singh had discussed India's concerns over Islamabad-backed terrorism in Kashmir and other parts of the country. South Block is especially keen that bilateral relations, so far confined to petroleum imports, be diversified to cover other sectors.
(This is the first of a series of reports tracing the Pakistan-Afghanistan roots of Islamist insurrections in different parts of the world)
(c) Defence Research Group
This article although written some time ago, is relevant even today. Nepal is seeking review of the security provisions of the India-Nepal Treaty at a time when concern is mounting in New Delhi about the growth of Pakistani intelligence activity in that country. The article has been edited for length.
COUNTRIES adopt various mechanisms to meet their essential security needs, and developing economic relations is one of them. This paper aims to examine the extent to which economic relations have been used as an instrument by India to meet its security interests which are linked to Nepal. In fact, Nepal provides a classic case for understanding the manner in which India has used economic relations as an effective instrument to further security interests.
A near perfect pattern emerges whereby convergence on security issues leads to covergence on economic issues also. The reverse is also true, in that divergence in security interests results in divergence on economic issues. Thus, economic relations have been used by India both as an instrument to win over Nepal (regarding security aspects) and when that was not possible, to influence it by withdrawing the economic concessions which were given in the first instance. The paper is divided into four sections.
- It looks at the security concerns of India which are linked to Nepal
- The paper examines Indo-Nepal relations in three phases to understand the manner in which economic relations have been used by India to influence Nepal regarding its security interests
- The major decisions arrived at during the September 1999 visit of India's external affairs minister to Nepal are spelt out.
- The last section, spelling out the changing security concerns of India, looks ahead and presents the conclusions of the paper.
Security Concerns: Nepal, a landlocked country, located at an altitude varying from 70m to 8,884m is bordered by two countries—India and China. To its south, east and west is India. Indo-Nepalese borders are not separated by any natural barriers and, in fact, there is a free movement of people and goods. To the north, Nepal is bordered by the Tibetan region of China. There are 28 passes on the Sino-Nepal boundary, of which three important routes are open throughout the year.
Threat perceptions to India do not directly arise from Nepal per se. They arise from:
- The possibility that through Nepal's northern borders any power (emphasis on China) upon entering Nepal, can easily access the Indian mainland since Indo-Nepal borders are not separated by any natural barrier and in this sense are open
- That a Nepal which is not stable politically and economically would be more vulnerable to such an eventuality and this would consequently result in the Indian mainland also being exposed
- That Nepal may adopt policies (internally and externally) which would be detrimental to the security interests of India.
The geo-strategic importance of Nepal as articulated by free India was a continuation of the perceptions of British India which had concluded treaty arrangements with Nepal in this regard. The hereditary Rana autocracy ruling Nepal followed a policy of isolation and maintained these arrangements as the continuity of their regime depended on British support.
However, by the time British withdrew from the subcontinent, the Indian freedom movement influenced some sections in Nepal too, to demand democracy and an end to Rana autocracy. Transition, thus, was to take place not only in India but also in Nepal. The Ranas sought the support of free India in return for being sympathetic to the latter's security concerns. Contradictions were bound to arise. The key word for India was the need for "stability" in Nepal, so that it would not become vulnerable to outside pressures. Nehru wanted an arrangement in Nepal which would not result in a complete break from the past and which would also result in a forward movement.
Those contending for power in Nepal were: The Rana autocrats who for over a hundred years had exercised absolute power; the monarchy which for over a hundred years had not exercised real power; and finally, the democrats, represented by the Nepali Congress, who were not a cohesive group and had serious personality clashes.
In these circumstances, India's involvement and attempt to find a solution was bound to satisfy some at the expense of the others because it would be seen as aligning with one party. This would also reduce the chances of manoeuvring in case the need arose to support one party against the other, in India's national interest. The result was the Delhi Settlement, according to which King Tribhuvan would continue to be the king of Nepal and an interim Cabinet of 14 members would be formed, half of whom would be popular representatives and the rest would be supporters of the Ranas. This, it was hoped, would provide progress without a complete break with the past.
Success, however, was elusive, first due to the differences between the Ranas and the Nepali Congress, and later, when the Nepali Congress also failed to provide a viable alternative. The attempts continued till 1955, when the Cabinet was dissolved and the direct rule of the crown was promulgated under King Tribhuvan who was keen to establish a democratic government in due course.
India's security concerns with Nepal had intensified following China's proclamation on September 10, 1949, that Tibet was part of Chinese territory and that no foreign intervention would be tolerated. On October 7, 1950, the Chinese occupied eastern Tibet, resulting in Nepal having contiguous borders with China. With danger to Nepal's territorial integrity being detrimental to India's security, stability in Nepal became a top priority for India.
To meet India's security concerns (and those of Nepal too), India and Nepal concluded in 1950 the Treaty of Peace and Friendship. The treaty, considered the bedrock on which Indo-Nepal relations are built, has clauses addressing both security and economic aspects. The letters exchanged along with the treaty also form an important part of the understanding leading to mutual security. The treaty was to remain in force till either party gave notice of one year.
- The treaty and the letter spell out that the two countries would inform each other of any misunderstanding with any neighbouring state likely to cause a breach in the friendly relations between the two countries
- That the two countries would not employ a foreigner whose activities would be prejudicial to the security of the other
- That arms or warlike material which Nepal imports through the territory of India shall be with the assistance and agreement of India. This particular clause could be incorporated not only because Nepal is a landlocked country but more important because it is for all practical purposes India-locked. It is this one factor which reduces Nepal's choices and manoeuvrability in both security and economic aspects.
The economic clauses in the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 refer to the national treatment which will be given to the nationals of the other regarding participation in industrial and economic development, residence, ownership of property, etc. As a result of this treaty, the people of Nepal are free to take up employment, buy property (like Indians can in Nepal) and even be part of the government services in India except in the limited seats of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and Indian Foreign Service (IFS). This clause is important to Nepal because of the low level of economic development in Nepal.
The treaty of 1950 should always be looked at as a whole package and not in parts, as is normally done. The economic and security provisions of the treaty are two sides of the same coin. While officially Nepal has not asked India for a review of the treaty, in other fora, from time to time, criticism on the security clauses is aired to the exclusion of the benefits which accrue to it in the economic sphere. It is due to the uniqueness of these provisions—economic and political—that India terms the bilateral relationship as a special one.
Along with the Treaty of Peace and Friendship was concluded the Treaty of Trade and Commerce. It covered the very crucial issue of facilities provided to Nepal for transit regarding trade not only with third countries, but also movement of goods from one place to another within Nepal through the Indian territory. During this period, more than 90 per cent of Nepal's trade was with India. Apart from trade and transit, India assisted Nepal in the construction of airports, canals, water supply, irrigation, roads, etc. Of the total aid of Nepalese Rupees (NR) 9,49,69,000 received by Nepal in 1951-56, India's contribution amounted to NR 7,00,18,000.
In 1951,the two countries decided to establish border checkposts along Nepal's border with Tibet, manned jointly by the Nepalese Army personnel and Indian wireless operators. This enabled the Government of India to receive intelligence reports regarding military activities in the north. In 1952, keeping in view the internal and external threats to Nepal, the modernisation of the disorganised and ill-equipped Nepalese Army was considered necessary.
Following Nepal's request, an India Military Mission (IMM) was deputed to Nepal in 1952 to train and modernise the Nepalese Army. However, these measures failed to evoke any enthusiasm from Nepal, which resented such direct involvement, particularly after maintaining a policy of isolation for over a hundred years during which it even did not allow the British entry beyond a certain point. Secondly, there were the discontented political elements who were unhappy at India's involvement in the political events and decisions, and all this led to a lot of bitterness. A major reason for the convergences had been the personality of King Tribhuvan. With his death, this link was also broken.
A new phase in the relations began with the death of King Tribhuvan in 1955. Till 1990, when the democratic revolution took place, a singular contradiction running through Indo-Nepal relations was the desire of the monarchy to wield power and the belief in India that only a democratic government would give Nepal stability. This contradiction led Nepal to dilute the spirit behind the treaty of 1950 and build new linkages. Thus, the convergences witnessed in the first phase were gradually withdrawn.
Even though after some time India supported the monarchy and the Panchayati regime that Nepal introduced, the suspicions continued. In this direction, in 1958, the IMM was downgraded and reorganised as the Indian Military Training and Advisory Group (IMTAG). However, with elections being held and the Nepali Congress coming to power, convergences were once again visible not only in the political arena but also in the economic field.
In 1960, the Treaty of Trade and Transit was concluded, whose provisions indicated towards a free trade area and also additional facilities for transit. However, the dismissal of the democratic government by King Mahendra drew sharp criticism from India; this was resented by Nepal and a threat was perceived from India itself. The regime's security was equated with state security. Thus, a divergence was witnessed, which only increased with Nepal developing ties with China and Pakistan.
Nepal soon established close cordial relations with China and later with Pakistan. King Mahendra successfully used the China card to extract concessions from India. From a historical perspective, the use of the China card by Nepal was not completely a new move. Even while dealing with British India, the rulers of Nepal had kept the China card open. As for China, its relations with Nepal assumed importance historically as well in the per cent times in the context of the former's interests in Tibet. Further, with China's differences arising with India, close relations with Nepal were welcome. China gave aid to Nepal as part of its policy. Later, it built the Kathmandu-Kodari read whose construction started in 1963 and was completed in 1965.
The road provided a direct strategic connection between China and Nepal via the difficult Tibetan route. If Nepal could not resist an attack through this road, the Indian heartland would be easily accessible through the open Indo-Nepal borders. For India, these developments were a cause of grave concern. The changing security concerns with Indo-Sino differences and the War 1962, led India to reassess its policy towards Nepal. The 1962, War disproved the long-held belief that the Himalayas were impregnable.
In the change of stand, India approved of Nepal's Panchayati system, and in 1965 the arms agreement between the two countries regarding supply of arms was concluded. One of the clauses spelt out that in the event of any shortfalls in the supply of arms and equipment by the Government of India to Nepal, the Governments of the USA and UK would furnish some defence assistance in order to supplement the assistance from India. In this sense, India's role as a supplier of arms to Nepal was emphasised. In other words, it meant restating the link in the mutual security concerns of the two countries.
In the economic field, India conceded concessions on transit procedures which Nepal had been asking for. Thus, India sought convergence on the security front by strengthening ties in the economic area. These moves, however, were not successful. Problems again arose in August 1970, when Nepal further diluted mutual security concerns when it asked India to withdraw personnel at the Nepal-Tibet checkposts and the IMTAG. The divergence in security issues coincided with divergences in the economic arena too. Problems arose over the renewal of the Treaty of Trade and Transit, which expired on October 31.Later, Nepal accused India of a blockade, which the latter denied.
India held that the differences were due to Nepal's persistent demand for a land route to trade with Pakistan, and certain policies which caused harm to Indian trade; and the Nepalese demanded two separate treaties on trade and transit, maintaining that while transit was of a permanent nature, trade interests differed from time to time. India did not agree to this. A single treaty was finally concluded on August 31, 1971, after a year of serious differences.
In 1972, King Birendra succeeded to the throne and in 1975, he propounded the Zone of Peace proposal which was again an attempt to dilute mutual security convergences. The Janata Party government attempted to develop a close relationship and it agreed to two separate treaties—one on trade and the other on transit, in 1978. An agreement to control unauthorised trade was also concluded. Nepal had always wanted two separate treaties—one on trade and the other on transit, saying that while transit was of permanent importance, trade interests changed from time to time. However, Nepal's attitude towards India did not change.
In 1988, a complete dilution of the spirit of the 1950 Treaty took place, when Nepal bought arms from China which included anti-aircraft guns and medium range SSM besides AK-49 assault rifles, etc that entered Nepal through the Kathmandu-Kodari road. Immediately, problems over renewal of the Trade and Transit Treaties arose. There were other problems also and India conveyed to Nepal that it would discuss a single treaty of trade and transit.
Differences which began over the trade issue, slowly covered the entire gamut of bilateral relations. Trade was carried on a most favoured nation (MFN) basis, and the trade and transit points which numbered 15 and 22 respectively were reduced to two. There was, however, no sign of a solution to the problems, and Indo-Nepal relations touched the nadir. During the crisis, Nepal realised the limitations of the Chinese help.
Thus, problems got resolved only after the ushering in of democracy in April 1990. In a joint communique in June 1990, both the sides touched on important security and economic issues. In April 1990, India welcomed the success of the mass movement for multi-party democracy in Nepal which led to the installation of an interim government headed by Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. In June 1990, Prime Minister Bhattarai's visit to India ended with the signing of a joint communique which restored status quo ante in bilateral relations to April 1, 1987—the period before the emergence of bilateral tensions.
During the visit, both sides undertook to fully respect each other's security concerns, not to allow activities in the territory of the one prejudicial to the security of the other, and to have consultations with a view to reaching mutual agreement on such defence related matters which, in the view of either country, could pose a threat to its security. Having done so, they seriously moved to cooperation in the spheres of industrial and human resource development and for harnessing of the common rivers for the benefit of the peoples of the two countries, and for protection and management of the environment. Various possibilities of widening bilateral economic cooperation were also considered. Later, many new agreements were signed.
The positive bilateral process continued with the visit of the Indian prime minister to Nepal from February 13 to 15, 1991, which was the first such visit in 14 years. In the coming years, such high level visits were to be a normal feature. Later, in 1991, an Indo-Nepal High Level Task Force was up—chaired by the Cabinet secretary or equivalent on both sides and including the foreign secretary, finance secretary and commerce secretary—which prepared a comprehensive programme for bilateral cooperation.
Further in 1991, as many as five important treaties and agreements were signed. These include:
- A new trade treaty
- A new transit treaty
- An agreement for cooperation in controlling unauthorised trade, etc.
- An appreciation of each other's security interests also led to close convergence on security interests.
Other significant steps include the state visit of the King of Nepal, His Majesty King Birendra Shah, in May 1993. India's economic cooperation programme with Nepal continued with the commissioning of an industrial estate at Rajbiraj and a telephone exchange at Rangeli in Nepal. Under the new trade regime that came into force in April 1993, access to the Indian market free of customs duty for manufactured articles was improved to include articles containing not less than 50 per cent of Nepalese materials and labour.
In 1996, India and Nepal renewed the Indo-Nepal Trade Treaty for a period of five years, up to 2001. As a result, articles of Nepalese manufacture could enter the Indian market free of customs duty and quantity restrictions. It was also agreed to accord parity to Nepalese products in the levy of countervailing duty, which would be equal to the treatment provided to Indian products, on the basis of a certificate issued by the Government of Nepal.
The 1991 Transit Treaty was renewed on January 5, 1999, in Kathmandu. The renewed treaty contains liberalised procedures for the transit of Nepalese goods. Nepal's request for "automatic renewal" for further seven-year periods was accepted by India. It, however, needs to be noted that the protocal and memorandum to the treaty, containing modalities and other arrangements, would be subject to review and modification every seven years or earlier, if warranted.
Thus, it is seen that though the treaty is to be automatically renewed, India would always be able to influence the important provisions in the protocol and memorandum to the treaty. In future, another effective mechanism of cooperation will be through sub-regional cooperation, more specifically, the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal Growth Quadrangle (BBIN-GQ). This will follow a project-led approach to cooperation in the core economic areas of multimodal transportation and communications; energy, trade and investment facilitation and promotion; tourism; optimal utilisation of natural resource endowments and environment. These projects are to be supportive of, and complementary to, the national plans of the four concerned countries. They will make best use of neighbourhood synergies and would be such that they can most productively be dealt with on sub-regional basis. Nepal is actively involved in this and will coordinate the overall sub-regional cooperation efforts.
A positive aspect of this mechanism would be that it will eliminate the anti-India factor generally witnessed in development projects which are of a bilateral nature. Do all these positive steps imply that mutual trust has been established and there is now a complete absence of mistrust and anti-India sentiments in Nepal? It is observed that as the legacy of mistrust is a long one, bilateral relations do evoke a degree of doubt. Further, in a democratic set-up, with regular elections being held, anti-India sentiments are used by many political parties to garner support.
But it has been seen that with the establishment of democracy in Nepal, when in power, political parties do adopt a constructive cooperative approach towards India. Some of the issues which are yet to be resolved include:
- The Mahakali Treaty
- The Kalapani issue
- The Bhutanese refugees issue (though this is between Nepal and Bhutan, Nepal feels that since it is through India that the refugees enter Nepal, India has a role to play) and
- The revision of certain provisions of the 1950 Treaty.
It is observed that democracy in Nepal has not meant that there are no bilateral differences, but the basic contradictions have been removed. While earlier India was accused of supporting the democratic elements, this does not happen now. Thus, while earlier the threat to the regime from these democratic elements was equated with a threat to the state, with India being the main factor, the same does not arise now. Anti-India feelings are still present but India is consciously trying to build on a cooperative model, and emphasising on economic relations, more so in the face of new security challenges.
Jaswant Singh's Visit to Nepal
India's External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh's four-day (September 8-11) visit to Nepal has given a positive thrust and direction to Indo-Nepal relations. It builds on the approach of positive bilateralism which began in the 1990s following the establishment of democracy in Nepal. But its significance arises from the joint approach both countries will take to tackle the new challenges on the security front.
The agenda for bilateral cooperation has, since a few years, been broad-based, focussing on the economy and energy. Jaswant Singh's visit enabled the developments in these areas to be reviewed and new thrust areas to be identified.
New Security Challenges
Security has always been a vital if not the core aspect of Indo-Nepal relations. However, these concerns have not remained static. With changing times, it is observed that new challenges have arisen. While traditional security concerns mentioned at the outset, arising from the geo-strategic positions remain, presently the security threats arise from the use of Nepalese territory by Pakistan's ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate) as a springboard to launch anti-India activities. India shares a 1,751-km-long open border with Nepal.
The Indian states along this border are Sikkim, West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The open Indo-Nepal borders (to facilitate free movement of people from both countries) are being used by anti-India elements to access India. India's concerns arise from the fact that eastern Nepal which borders the narrow sensitive Siliguri corridor connecting the entire north-east to the rest of India, is being used by Pakistan's ISI to sponsor insurgency in the north-east and transfer small arms and contraband. In other parts of India too, it is reported that the large quantities of weapons and ammunition seized, including RDX, have been traced to the Nepalese route. Presently, as the Indian external affairs minister stated, the presence of foreign intelligence agencies in Nepal is part of India's security concerns.
On the other hand, Nepal is also facing left-wing Maoist extremists within its territory. Nepal is concerned that these Maoists might develop links with similar groups in India. It is suspected that they have developed links with the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in Bihar and the People's War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh. With the twin forces of the ISI and Maoists in its territory, Nepal would be particularly anxious to keep the left-wing extremists and Islamic radicals separated. Presently, the Maoists are poorly armed but their destructive power can grow manifold if they have access to arms and explosives available to the ISI. India has denied reports that the Maoist rebels active in Nepal were functioning from Indian soil.
Thus, both the countries have new security concerns, which are qualitatively different from what confronted them initially, and which are more difficult to respond to in certain aspects.
- The threat is more diffused in nature
- It is not aimed directly at the territorial integrity of either country, but the aim is to cause grave harm.
- The threat is from non-state actors in both countries developing linkages. This makes it more difficult to combat, unlike the earlier perceptions of threat to the territorial integrity from a particular country.
It is clear that these new security challenges have to be met through joint actions by both the countries and this is exactly what the two countries have decided to do. Both sides have decided to undertake, "integrated border management". This essentially involves infrastructural development in the border areas, including the construction of cross-border roads which connect with Nepal's main highways. This lateral construction of roads will not only encourage cross-border trade, but will have major security implications since it will help in effective monitoring of cross-border terrorism. In fact, in June 1997, the two countries decided to work closely to fight terrorism.
Towards this direction, the Joint Working Group on border management has already held meetings. Both countries have also agreed to review their extradition treaty and are also considering concluding an understanding on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters. Another important issue from the security point of view is the question of demarcation of the Indo-Nepal boundary, including the Kalapani area. The Kalapani enclave lies on the tri-junction of India, Nepal and China. Nepal has stated that this area is located within its territory, which has been disputed by India. India maintains a post of the para-military Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) there. India holds the view that a committee was set up to examine the issue when Prime Minister I.K. Gujral visited Nepal and that India would wait for the report of the committee.
Many positive steps have been taken in the economic field. India and Nepal have decided to revive the India-Nepal Joint Commission to focus on economic ties. In a bid to push trade, both countries will also work out an agreement which will facilitate the cross-border movement of motor vehicles in the next four months. An Indo-Nepal Inter-Governmental Committee will meet to promote trade, facilitate transit and control unauthorised trade between the two countries. Creation of export promotion zones at Birgunj, Biratnagar and Nepalgunj is also being envisaged. Earlier (pre-1990s), Indo-Nepal relations were primarily covered by the Indo-Nepal Treaties of Trade and Transit which had to be periodically renewed and would at times cause concern to both sides.
Presently, both countries have moved beyond these issues to cooperate in other areas. Both countries have decided to focus on the development of hydro- power in Nepal. In this direction, it has been decided that a Joint Project Office (JPO) will be set up to prepare a detailed project report for the 6,000 MW Pancheshwar project by November 1999. It has also been decided that the necessary steps for the preparation of the detailed project report on the 2,000 MW Saptakoshi project will be undertaken. Both countries have also decided to encourage the involvement of the private sector in developing small and medium sized power plants in Nepal since the larger projects will have a gestation period of eight to 10 years.
India is giving top priority to energy imports from Nepal which it sees as part of its larger effort to achieve national energy security. This would also help in bringing down the trade deficit which is in India's favour. India has called for the need to go beyond the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) and South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA) so that a South Asian Economic Zone could be established which would provide enormous benefits to the region.India has further stated that it supports the South Asian growth quadrangle (BBIN-GQ) concept initiated by Nepal.
A major highlight of the foreign minister's visit was the inauguration of the B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences at Dharan, and the Neo-Natal and Maternal Intensive Care Units at the Maternity Hospital in Kathmandu. India and Nepal have agreed to set up a Joint Task Force (JTF) to study the problems of flood control and forecasting in Nepal and adjoining areas of India in a comprehensive manner; it is to submit its reports in six months. The two countries also decided to give a new thrust to the development of agriculture in the Terai region which borders Indian states.
On the issue of refugees—Nepalese-speaking people—from Bhutan to Nepal, India has stated that it favours direct talks between Thimpu and Kathmandu to resolve the issue.
The writer is Associate Fellow, Institute of Defence Studies & Analysis, New Delhi