Bhatkal arrest sign of ‘special relationship’, but unease in some sections

While denying knowledge of the arrest of Yasin Bhatkal, accused of involvement in recent terror attacks in India, Nepal’s top leadership has spoken of the “very good security cooperation” between the two countries.

The reaffirmation of ‘sensitivity’ to India’s security concerns comes at a time when there are reports that the alleged Indian Mujahideen founder was apprehended in Nepal.

Nepal’s Home and Foreign Affairs Minister Madhav Prasad Ghimire told The Hindu on the phone from Kathmandu: “I am yet to be briefed of the incident. But there is very positive cooperation. Security agencies have very good relations. Nepal is very sensitive to India’s security concerns.”

The minister’s statement was echoed by Nepal’s senior most police officer.

Inspector-General Kuber Singh Rana said: “We always express our vital concerns when we meet each other and talk. Security ties are top priority. Both countries are sensitive to each other’s concerns.” He, however, said he heard about the arrest from news channels and had “no information.”

‘Porous border’

Bhatkal’s arrest comes soon after Abdul Karim Tunda, the alleged Laskhar-e-Taiba operative, was reportedly picked up from Nepal. In June, an alleged criminal from Bihar, Bablu Dubey, was arrested and handed over to the Bihar Police. In 2010, two leaders, from Naga and Assamese militant outfits, were also reported to have been picked up in Nepal. In February 2008, Amit Kumar, an alleged kingpin of a kidney racket, was arrested by the Nepal Police and handed over in India.

Indian officials say Nepal figures so often in such cases because of the “open border.” An intelligence source, familiar with Nepal-India relations, says: “The border is porous. Many elements use it as an entry-point to India, or a base to conduct activities against us. It is also easy to live in Nepal while remaining inconspicuous.”

The second reason is the “excellent working relationship” with Nepal’s local authorities. A former diplomat said: “Irrespective of the party or government in power, the police-to-police and intelligence-to-intelligence ties are excellent.” The intelligence source admitted that these ties were often based on “informal arrangements,” given that a new extradition treaty had not been finalised. A Nepali editor, who did not want to be named, said: “India’s role in Nepal’s domestic politics, their deep ties with the bureaucracy and state institutions also gives them leverage.”

Unease

But some in Kathmandu are uncomfortable with reports of Indian agencies directly making arrests in their territory, or Nepal Police making arrests and handing over the arrested persons to India without due process.

Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, a former Foreign Minister and ambassador to India, told The Hindu: “There is no question of [our] not co-operating on fundamental security matters. But the arrangement is not always transparent. The sanctity of the border and the Nepali state’s standing vis-à-vis its own people and vis-à-vis international community must not be compromised.”

But the IGP Rana said there was no action which would “affect Nepali sovereignty.” An official in the Indian embassy in Kathmandu said: “Nepali criminals picked on our side are also handed over to Kathmandu. We are responsive to their concerns.”

At an India-Nepal conference, organised by the Ministry of External Affairs in Varanasi in September 2008, the late B. Raman, the widely-respected security analyst, had flagged a concern. “I have doubts about whether old, informal relations between the two countries would remain or give way in the new set-up, whether Nepali authorities will be as friendly.” If the recent arrests are any indication, the “special security relationship” has only deepened.

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