Border Fences Walls and Identity of Nepal
Paper presented by:
Buddhi N Shrestha
P.O. Box 6769 Kathmandu, Nepal
International Conference on
Fences, Walls, and Borders : State of Insecurity ?
University of Quebec at Montreal
With the Association for Borderland Studies
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
May 17-18, 2011
Border Fences, Walls and Identities of Nepal
Buddhi N Shrestha
Himalaya, as a natural wall is located at the northern frontier of Nepal. But there are neither fences nor barriers at the southern border. It has an open border regime. Inter-state criminals, unwanted elements and terrorists cross the international boundary time and often. It has adversely affected the identity of Nepal and security of the people of both nations. It is a felt need to install fences on Indo-Nepal border.
Himalayan Republic of Nepal is situated between two emerging Asian giants, India and China. The frontier of Nepal is surrounded on its south, east and west by India; and on the north by China. China has expanded its economic market almost all over the world against the background of its emerging political scenario and advancement of science and technology. And India is attaining economic prosperity in South Asia by enhancing its global political image.
Himalayan range, as a natural wall, has been located between Nepal and China. But there are neither fences nor walls along Indo-Nepal border. It is the flat Indo-Gangetic flood plain that has been extended from India towards Nepali frontier. Barrier less porous border has challenged the identity of Nepal at local and national level.
When we look at the historical background of boundary of Nepal, Prithvi Narayan Shah the Great initiated to unify various petty kings, small kingdoms and principalities of the Himalayan region in 1745. As a result, Prithvi Narayan Shah formally established Nepal as a Himalayan State and thus, Nepal was born on November 17, 1769. After the death of Prithvi Narayan Shah, his descendants Bahadur Shah and Rajendra Laxmi continued the unification movement and Nepal was extended from Tista River on the east to Kangra on the west in 1806. Similarly, Nepal was extended up to the confluence of Gandak and Ganges rivers to the south; and to Shigatshe and Tashilhunpo Gomba (monastery) across the Himalayas in the north. It was called the ‘Greater Nepal.’
At that time India was ruled by British East India Company. British India did not like Nepal as a unified and integrated country as Greater Nepal. So there were some conflicts on territory between Nepal and British India. And the western border of Greater Nepal was shrunk to Sutlej River in 1809. However, disputes, claims and counter-claims on some of the border land intensified between the two governments. Ultimately these disputes turned into a war. As a result, there was Anglo-Gurkha War from 1814-16. In the mean time, British India initiated for a treaty. And the Treaty of Sugauli was signed by Nepal and British India on March 4, 1816. With the effect of this treaty, Nepal lost one third of its territory from Mechi to Tista River on the east and Mahakali to Sutlej (Kangra) on the west.
Historically, Nepal was elongated 1,415 km east to west from Tista to Kangra with an area of 267,575 sq. km. But it was shrunk to Mechi and Mahakali, after the Treaty of Sugauli and subsequent Boundary Treaties of December 11, 1816 and November 15, 1860 with British East India Company. As a result, present Nepal’s territory has been limited to an area of 147,181 sq. km having 885 km east-west length. This is the identity of the Himalayan Republic of Nepal.
So far as Nepal’s border demarcation business is concerned, Nepal-China border alignment was completed in 1963 and the boundary protocols have been renewed during certain interval. Last and the fourth protocol is going to be renewed within 2011. Regarding the border demarcation with India, it is not complete; though Joint Technical Level Boundary Committee worked from 1981 to 2007. Ninety-eight percent demarcation work of 1,808 kilometer of border line has been completed and the border strip-maps have been prepared accordingly. Researchers denote that there are encroachments, occupations, disputes, claims and counter-claims by India on 54 places of Nepal along 2 percent of the boundary line on various patches, and its area is approximately 60,000 hectares of land.
On the other hand, if we go back to the history of border management of Nepal, regulated system is prevalent with the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China since long. As regards the system between Nepal and India, at first there was a close border system. It was converted into regulated system after the boundary treaty of Sugauli. After forty-four years, open border system was started. Now the border is wide open for the nationals of two countries. It has created so many hazards by unrestricted movement. So it is a complex system of boundaries of Nepal and interfaces of various origins. Anthropological approaches have been increasing for the management of border with some kind of barrier.
Nepal’s identity is growing year after year due to its proximity to the adjoined TAR of China. At the same time, the degree of border management and administration on the Himalayan border wall has increased the importance of Nepal. West European countries and the United States of America have taken keen interest on Nepal. They have been providing financial assistances and moral support directly and indirectly to construct Buddhist Monasteries on the top hills, close to Nepal’s northern Himalayan wall. Some of the general Nepali people have been converting into Buddhist monks. There are also some foreigners residing as monks (with gray clothes Tibetan attire) in the monasteries. This is because of the fact that these monasteries have made easy to study the activity of TAR with close look. And they may cross the unattained border pass to Tibet, time and often. At the same time, Tibetan refugees cross the mountain passage of the Himalayan border wall to Nepal illegally and they may conduct anti-China activities, staying in Nepali soil.
On the other hand, China is vigilant on Nepal that there should not have any kind of anti-Chinese activities, as the Tibetan Holy leader Dalai Lama and his numerous followers have stationed at Dharmashala in India, the southern neighbor of Nepal. So China wants to grip Nepal to accommodate in their interest. To materialize this interest, China is providing a considerable amount of financial and technical as well as monetary assistances to satisfy Nepal. One can cite some examples as China government provided assistance to Nepal amounting $19.8 million to Nepali Army during the visit of Chief of the General Staff of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Chen Bingde, who visited Nepal from March 23-25, 2011. It is the single largest military assistance from the northern neighbor. In the Chinese delegation, it was comprised top security officials of China’s troubled TAR. Reiterating China’s importance to Nepal, head of the delegation Chief of Army Staff General Chen said, this co-operation is for the maintenance of peace, stability and development in the region. This visit is the highest level of military visit from China after 2001 visit of Chin Haotian, Vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission and Minister of National Defense. In addition, during the visit of PLA Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Ma Xiaotian in December 2008, China had given $2.6 million in non-lethal military aid to Nepal Army. While in December 2009, a Chinese military delegation had provided $3 million worth of communication logistic to the Nepal Army.
So far as the southern neighbor of Nepal is concerned, India has also extended huge amount of grant assistance to Nepal. Indian Embassy at Kathmandu has provided financial support directly to various social organizations and educational institutions of different district and villages, which is exactly not known to Nepal government. India has granted and distributed monetary assistance equivalent to US$ 790 million since 2001.
India deserves that there should not have any horror and terror from the Pakistani ISI agents, who cross the ungoverned border of Nepal and enters into Indian soil. In such a fragile situation, Nepal has to adopt an equidistance policy to both of the neighbors to maintain a security strategy to sustain national identity with the perspective of international relation, conceptualizing border fences and walls.
2. Historical outlook on border management
China and India is Nepal’s neighbor. So it has to be mentioned on both the nations.
A. Nepal-China border management :
There is a regulated / controlled border system between Nepal and China from historic time. It has a demilitarized zone of 20 km on either side of the borderline. However, there is a frequent infiltration of Tibetan refugees in a disguised manner to move to Dharmashala of India where the Dalai Lama resides. It is notable that compulsory ID card system has been introduced for the inhabitants of Nepal-Tibet (China) frontier from January 1, 2006 to cross the border point.But earlier, authentic ID was not required for the inhabitants of 30 km of both the frontiers.
Nepal’s 15 districts have been adjoined with TAR of Chinese border; whereas the total length of boundary between Nepal and China is 1,439 km. But around 700 km of it are inaccessible owing to harsh terrains. There are 37 mountain passes between Nepal and TAR. The two governments have opened six formal entry and exit points for the movement of people, goods and merchandise. These border crossing points are Yari-Purang (Taklakot), Lomanthang (Nechung)-Jili, Rasuwa-Kyerong, Kodari-Nyalam (Khasa), Kimathanka-Riwo and Olangchung Gola-Riwo. However, people use to cross the border from Lipulek, Tinkar, Ural Bhanjyang, Khoptang Chaur, Musigaon, Naru, Larke Bhanjyang, Lamabagar, Namche Chhule and Lhonak into the TAR unofficially.
I. The agreement
The two governments entered into an ‘Agreement on Trade and other Related Matters between the TAR of China and Nepal’ on September 30, 1956, which was renewed last time on July 10, 2002. The agreement says that those who wish to travel to the other country shall hold valid passports issued by the sending country and visa issued by the receiving country. Inhabitants of the border districts shall hold exit-entry passes with photo affixed ID Cards for the purpose of border trade, pilgrimage and visiting relatives and friends. But they are not allowed to go beyond the border districts into the interior of the other country. Generally the limit is 30 km from the borderline. Those who hold certificates for pilgrimage can travel through the designated routes and allotted entry points. They are not permitted to stay in the border districts of the receiving country for more than a month. Either party has the right to refuge entry into its territory of any persona non-grata.
All these points denote that there is a regulated border management system between Nepal and China. It means those who want to cross the border must produce valid passport and visa. For the inhabitants of the border districts, identity card is sufficient. However, Tibetans sneak into Nepal through unattended crossing points without any document of identification. Usually, illegal border crossing takes place at night in extreme conditions, which often claims many lives. Hundreds of Tibetans make the difficult and dangerous journey into Nepal illegally, time and again. They don’t have any documents of identification with them while crossing the border. This is due to harsh topography that security forces could not pay attention all the times on the loop holes of the natural wall.
II. Illegal crossing
Tibetans cross the international border illegally either to stay in Nepal as refugees or to go to visit Dharmashala, India to see the Dalai Lama or ultimately to go to Western countries through the help of United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). If they are able to stay in hiding in Nepal, they launch Free Tibet propaganda and indulge in anti-China activities. In other words, they try to spoil the intimate relation between China and Nepal, as it is related to the identity of Nepal.
All these incidents take place due to the provision that the inhabitants of Tibetan border districts can travel up to 30 km to visit friends and relatives in Nepal. But many infiltrators travel farther, and visit Nepali district headquarters and even Kathmandu, capital city. If they are more successful, some manage to cross the porous Nepal-India border on their way to Dharmashala by bribing border forces or slipping past border posts. Some of them stay in Kathmandu as refugees and take part in anti-China activities. In fact, they have taken unwanted advantage of the privilege accorded by the joint agreement which allows people to travel to the adjoining districts of Nepal.
The illegal cross over are orchestrated by various organizations and agents who bring in Tibetans in the guise of Buddhist monks and send them to India or other Western countries through UNHCR. But the Chinese authorities want to see Tibetans refugees locked up behind bars, if not handed over to them or deported back to their country of origin.
III. Notorious Lamabagar crossing-point
Mostly, Tibetans cross through the unattended China-Nepal crossing points. One of the most notorious, illegal and sensitive crossing points is the Lapchegaun of Lamabagar, located at Dolakha district adjoined with Rongxor of TAR. Nepal side Lamabagar police station is located 32 km south of this border crossing point. Nearly 150 Tibetans who infiltrated illegally have been arrested from Lamabagar area in last one-year period which has prompted the Chinese government to categorize Lamabagar as a sensitive area. In the recent case in mid-April 2010, nine Tibetans were arrested for illegally entering Nepal through this crossing point. They were handed over to immigration officials for investigation. Considering the sensitivity of Lamabagar, Chinese Ambassador Qiu Guohang visited Dolakha on June 2, 2010 to make effective arrangement for deportation of Tibetans who have illegally entered Nepali territories.
It is very difficult to deport the Tibetans who have been arrested in Lamabagar. It takes around three-four days to reach the border crossing point. The trekking route along the river Tamakoshi is very steep, rocky and narrow. The Tibetans being forcibly deported through this route often refuse to walk. Some are known to inflict self punishment and threaten to jump into the river, if they have to return to Tibet. It can get very difficult for the policemen involved in the thankless job.
There are a few other documented cases. While a group of Tibetans was illegally crossing the Nangpa La Pass on Sept. 30, 200l; Chinese border guards reportedly opened fired and seventeen-year-old Kelsang Namtso was killed in the process Similarly, two monks and one young woman were arrested in Western Nepal in June 2010 and deported through a helicopter.
V. Nepal’s soft corner
Nepal government was rather ‘soft’ on the Tibetan refugees until some years ago. It had provided ID Cards to around 25,000 Tibetan refugees. But presently, strict measures have been adopted due to Chinese diplomatic pressure. On the other hand, the Nepal Government Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the request of UNHCR prepares travel documents for ID card holding Tibetans travelling abroad. At the same time, the US and the UK Embassies grant visas and permits to the refugees on the basis of those documents.
VI. Border observation posts (BOP) should be established
To stop illegal crossing, Armed Police Force BOPs should be established at various spots close to the crossing-points: for example, at Lapchegaun (but not at Lamabagar as presently established). There are BOPs in Tatopani, Rasuwagadhi, and Lomanthang in the northern frontier of Nepal. But they remain ineffective.
It is important that Tibetans who have been arrested should be deported to their home country, for deportation is an accepted international practice in case of foreigners violating immigration laws. But it has not acted effectively. In addition, UNHCR should not take undue interest in sending Tibetans to Western countries as such a move might hamper the identity of Nepal.
B. Nepal-India border management :
If we look back at the history of border management of Nepal with India, it began as a closed border system in ancient period. There was restriction on entry into Nepal, especially for third country nationals. In course of time, controlled border system was informally initiated after the Boundary Treaty of Sugauli of 1816 with the East India Company. Eventually, western people would require special permission from the Prime Minister.
I. Open border
The open border system started unknowingly after the Boundary Treaty of 1860. However, passport or travel document was necessary to cross the border till 1957. The border between Nepal and India became more open after India’s independence in 1947. It was wide open after the establishment of democracy in Nepal in 1950. The border became further wide open after the construction of Tribhuvan Highway in 1957 linking Katmandu, capital city of Nepal to an Indian frontier town, Raxaul. As a result, anyone could cross the international border and shuttle back and forth, many times a day, without any interrogation. Consequently, Passport / permit system gradually and unknowingly disappeared after the connection of roadway. On the other hand, there was a kind of closed border system during economic blockade by India from 23 March 1989 to 30 June 1990 as India unilaterally closed its entire 22 border crossing points and 15 transit points for Nepal.
Meanwhile, India has also adopted a kind of discretionary system from time to time. It unilaterally implemented the temporarily closed border system in some of the sensitive border crossing points. For example, the Falelung border point of Taplejung district of Nepal is a case in point. This point was closed for the Nepalese nationals to go to India during 2004. But before this, India was allowing Nepalese nationals to enter India from this point, after depositing ID or Citizenship Certificate.
As another example, India has laid down unilaterally that the Nepalese nationals, who enter India from third country, must produce visa. Tanka Lal Shrestha (Nepalese working in German Embassy, Kathmandu), while traveling by Indian Airline flight on January 26, 2005 from Lahore to New Delhi was obstructed by Immigration Officer asking him to produce visa.Earlier, ID card was sufficient for the Nepalese nationals.
In due course of time, open border system changed into regulated system for the air-route passengers traveling from Nepal to India and vice versa. ID card system was introduced for air passengers of both the countries from 1 October 2000. It was done after Indian Airline Aircraft with flight number IC-814 which took off for New Delhi from Katmandu had been hijacked on December 24, 1999. The plane was ultimately landed at Kandahar, Afghanistan.
In the other side of the coin, open border was transformed into regulated system in one of the land-routes at Nepalganj-Rupaidiya border crossing point from November 1, 2005. Both the governments introduced regulated border management system to this point, as ID card system has been made compulsory. But it has not been materialized due to slackness in border administration.
II. Reasons for keeping the border open
The main reason to make Indo-Nepal border open was to facilitate easy access to recruit the young and raw Nepali boys in the British Gurkha Army Regiment without any border restriction. British Army Officers did appreciate the bravery of young and sturdy Gurkha fighters during Anglo-Gurkha War, 1814-16.
Second, it would be easier to sell the finished British and Indian goods and merchandise in the market of Nepal and even Tibet via Nepal with open border. At the same time, open border facilitated the import by India of Nepalese cheap raw materials, such as timber, raw animal hides and skin, herb and medicinal plants for its manufacturing industries.
The third reason was to make easy and frequent visits of the Indian politicians and bureaucrats as advisors and consultants to the Nepalese Ministers and Secretaries after the democratic movement of Nepal in 1950. In the same way, wide open border also made it easy for Indian Overseers to come to Nepal as Engineers and semi-educated persons as teachers in remote-area schools of Nepal.
Fourth and the most important factor for the border to remain open is social relationship at people to people level of both the nations.
III. There is no treaty to make the border open
There is no such treaty / agreement or memorandum to keep the border open between two countries. Even Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty of July 31, 1950 does not have the provision for open border system. Article-VII of the treaty says: “The government of India and Nepal agree to grant, on reciprocal basis, to the nationals of one country in the territories of the other the same privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement and privileges of a similar nature.” But there is no mention of the open border between two countries. It only suggests that the border management system must be reciprocated by both the countries. What it means is that if open or regulated system is enacted by one country, the same system should be implemented by the other on the basis of reciprocity.
If we examine some regulations, there is no mention of open border system. Passport Regulations-1952 says: “In case of the Nepalese residing for long or permanently settled down in any foreign country want to visit Katmandu, they will require to have the permit issued from the concerned District / City Magistrate or Passport issued by the Embassies or Consulates of Nepal in the respective country or from the Alainchikothi (as Consulate Office of Nepal) in Patna, India.”
In the same way, the Sample of Rahadani / Permit-April 1862 says: “Nepalese to go out of Katmandu Valley and Nepal to Nepal via India should require to obtain Rahadani / Permit from Rahadani Goswara (Office) or Gadhi / Gaunda.”There was also arrangement to provide permanent passport paying Nepali Rupees Five for one year to the general people, who come and go through Gadhi and by aero-plane from April 14, 1952.But these arrangements have not been functioning.
On the other hand, if we make a study on the existing Immigration Act-1992, even the Indian nationals should produce visa to enter Nepal. Article-3 (1) of the Act says: “No foreigners are entitled to enter into the Kingdom of Nepal and reside in Nepal without having passport and visa.” In this connection, the question arises: who are the foreigners?
Immigration Regulations-1992 (Second Amendment-2002), Article 2(B) defines: “Foreigner means any person, not being the citizen of Nepal at present, as it must be understood.” In the regulations, no special provision has been made for Indian nationals. It indicates that the regulated border system should be followed also for the Indian nationals. If there was some memorandum or agreement to maintain open border system between two countries, the Immigration Act and Regulations would not have been issued in this manner.
This scribe had published an article in a daily newspaper on the regulation of border. In response to this article, Sanjaya Verma, Counselor of Indian Embassy, Katmandu wrote in the Letter to the Editor column of the same daily supporting this scribe that “Open border between two countries is not mentioned in any of the articles of 1950 Nepal-India Treaty. But the open border is an emblem of most intimate friendship that has existed between both countries from ancient time to this date.”
So all these facts reveal that there is no black and white document on the prevalence of open border system between Nepal and India. In the background of all these regulations, changing situation has demanded to make some arrangements not to leave the terrorists and unwanted elements through the open border. Now the international border should be fenced and vigil by the border security guards.
IV. How the border is made open ?
There may be a query as to how the open border system prevailed between two countries ? The answer may be:
- It prevailed on the basis of mutual understanding, good neighborly relations, religious sentiment, the same topography, social similarities, and family relationship.
- The next factor may be political. There was a very close contact among high-ranking political leaders of both nations. Nepalese leaders had participated actively in the independence movement of India. In the same way, Indian leaders also contributed to establish democracy in Nepal. And the open border made the movement of political leaders and bureaucrats of India and Nepal easy to shuttle back and forth without any interrogation in the border.
- The third factor is the social one. Socially, a considerable number of Nepalese boys are the sons-in-law of Indian nationals and Indian girls are the daughters-in-law of the Nepalese, mostly those who reside in the frontier. As a consequence, Indian and Nepalese parents are the parents-in-law to each other. The other item is that millions of people are working in India. In the same way, many Indian nationals are working in Nepal without any work permit. So the border was made open socially for their frequent visits to the kith and kin on either side of the frontier. The administration did not obstruct them in practice.
This is, more or less, a short account of the historical background of Nepal-India border management system. All these points show that Indo-Nepal border management is complex, as history tells. Now both the governments have to analyze and redefine the prevalent border management system in terms of growing terrorist activities in Asia as well as other countries of the globe.
3. Implications of open border system
There are positive and negative implications of open border system between Nepal and India. In fact, negative implication outnumbers the positive one in the Nepalese context. Convenience in movement and travel, strengthening mutual ties, quick emergency response and assistance, competitive frontier market, supply of labor etc are positive features. But there are many other negative aspects of insecure open border system. This may be cross-border terrorism, transaction of illegal arms and ammunitions, effect on peace and security, trans-border crime, theft and robbery, girls and women trafficking, narcotic drug trafficking, kidnapping of individuals, illegal migration, smuggling of goods and machinery, leakage in revenue collection, anti-social activities and encroachment of border and no-man’s land,.
The terrorists, unwanted elements and the then Maoist rebels have gained benefits from the open border. They have misused it for the transaction of illegal arms and ammunitions and explosive materials. But the common people of Nepal and India fear insecurity for their life and property. Unwanted elements create terror in Nepalese frontier time and often. During the Maoists rebellion movement 2005-07, they attacked mainly government offices, set fire to them and looted the bank. Some of them have been killed during fighting. Those who managed to escape flee on the other side of the porous border with no restriction and taken shelter there. In the same way, those who were wounded and injured during fighting, crossed the open border easily, with blood leaking from their bodies. They got treatment in the hospitals of Indian frontier.When they were recovered and got recharged, they crossed the open border easily again to create terror and horror in Nepal. In such a fashion Indo-Nepal porous border has been made insecure and misused by the rebellions.
On the other side; not only the Indian and Nepali nationals, but also other nationals use to cross the porous border easily. Bangladeshis are crossing the international border in the disguise of West Bengal Indian nationals. Their face, attire, posture, and behavior resemble the Indian national, as they speak the Bengali language as well. In the same way, the Pakistani, Afghani, Iranian crosses the border as Uttar Pradesh State Indian national; and Sri Lankan as Indian Bihari. On the other hand, Myanmar people infiltrates as Nepali, as they can speak Nepali language. Those who have crossed the Indo-Nepal border, some of the Pakistani, Iranian, and Myanmar infiltrators are seeking asylum in mostly western nations through United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Katmandu. In one sense, the porous border has helped to initiate illegal activities in both nations to some extent. So Indo-Nepal open border management system is going to be difficult for the common people of both countries.
4. Alternative measures to maintain identity
Analyzing the above mentioned facts and against the background of cross border terrorism and illegal activities, the existing open border has virtually become dysfunctional to maintain peace and security, law and order for the people of both nations. The open border management system is going to be insecure day by day. So it’s high time to introduce an alternative measure for the identity of both nations. It has been realized after the tragic events of September 11, 2001 in America and the widespread Maoist rebellion for more than a decade in Nepal and now in some frontier States of India. More than thirteen thousand Nepalese people lost their lives due to Maoist rebellion and terrorist activities. One of the main reasons for increasing cross-border terrorism is the barrier less open border between Nepal and India. Existing Indo-Nepal border management has created insecurity for the people of Nepal and the inhabitants of Indian frontier as well.
In order to make safe and secure Nepal-India border, an alternative measure should be implemented. Two alternative measures to regulate the existing open border system may be adopted. The first is fencing the frontier; and the second is guarding the border by human fence
A. Fencing the frontier
One is reminded of a poem by an American poet Robert Frost that reads: ‘good fences make good neighbours.’ If the boundary is surrounded by the barbed wire, the movement except from the fixed entry / exit point will be stopped and it will be easier to control the border. Because of this provision, terrorists, smugglers and drug traffickers as well as their agents involved in undesirable activities will not be able to play foul within and outside the country. It will also be easy to supervise the border and watch the illegal activities. This will help to reduce and remove insecurity for the people of both frontiers. This will be really an exemplary in the case of India-Nepal border management regime, if it is fenced in a phase wise basis.
In the past, we did witness a wall built in the border area of Nepal. The then Zonal Commissioner Tek Bahadur Rayamajhi had got a wall constructed in a few kilometers on the no-man’s land area to stop the smuggling of Chinese goods to India from Krishnanagar of Kapilbastu district. Besides, an ordinary wire fence had been raised in 1978 to separate the border between Nepal’s Krishnanagar ad India’s Badhani bazaar area. Since the wire fence has been thrown away at places, the smugglers of the border area have been found smuggling goods easily. This example reveals that raising a wire fence along the border is not a new experience for both Nepal and India. Similarly, Indian para-military force had installed barbed wire fencing in the Kalapani area at Darchula District in June 1998, while Nepali students and journalists were on the Long March Program.
On the other side, China has constructed 15 km long barbed wire fencing along Sino-Nepal border from Tatopani to Lamabagar border crossing point. It was the result of increasing use of arms made in China by the Nepali Maoist rebels.
If we look at India’s other neighboring countries, a high wall is being constructed in between Funcholing of Bhutan and Jayagaon of India by Bhutan unilaterally to obstruct the movement of undesired elements. Government of Bhutan had stopped the movement of public transport from Funcholing to Gyalephug and Samdup Jongkhar to discourage relations with the people on the other side of the frontier.
Similarly, there is iron fencing along Indo-Pakistan border. Even the Line of Control in Kashmir has been fenced by barbed wire. In the same way, Indo-Bangladesh border (Tripura area) has been fenced. Meanwhile, Pakistan has planned to construct a wall in Pakistan-Afghanistan border (problematic aboriginal area) to control the menace of fighting. It was revealed in 2005 while Pakistan President Pervez Musharrf was talking with visiting US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.
In the context of all these examples, it could be said that a durable fence should be put up taking into consideration the nature of unobstructed land in the border line of 1,808 km, especially the plain area of Nepal-India border. During the fencing, around 180 entry/exit points should be left. According to the present market price, an amount of 29 million US$ is roughly estimated to be spent with the rate of 16 US$ per meter (including the iron poles). If both countries bear this cost equally, Nepal will have to share an amount of 14.5 million dollars.
B. Guarding the border by human fence
Along the border line of 1,808 km between Nepal and India, there is neither natural barrier nor the barbed wire fencing. The border has been guarded by Indian Special Services Bureau (SSB) as human fence on the Indian frontier. But some Indian political leaders including Bihar State Chief Minister Nitish Kumar wanted to fence the border physically, so that terrorists and criminals could not cross the international border easily. Eventually, it has not yet been materialized. Both the frontiers have mostly the same topography with an extension of Indo-Gangetic flood plain. So there is an easy access for the people of both countries. But unwanted elements, other than the two nationals have taken benefits. It has affected adversely to maintain law and order and peace and security.
I. Indian perspective
India has shown interest to regulate / control the insecure Indo-Nepal border. At first they had deployed 30,000 Special Services Bureau (SSB) para-military forces along Indo-Nepal borderline after the incidents of September 11 in the United States, attack on parliament building in New Delhi on December 13, 2001 and expansion of Maoist’s rebellion activities in Nepal and India. Now number of SSB force has been increased to 45,000 personnel, after the explosive incidents in London Railway Station on July 7, 2005 and a series of explosive incidents in New Delhi on October 29, 2005. An undisclosed source says that they have a plan to add 15,000 more to make it 60,000 SSB personnel by 2012.
In the context of increasing insecurity and cross border crime, India has categorized Indo-Nepal borderline (1,808 km) in three segments as followings:
- Security Sensitive Segment :725 km ( that falls 9 Nepal districts from Dadeldhura to Nawalparasi).
- Under Observation Segment : 780 km (13 districts from Chitawon to Ilam).
- Normal Segment : 303 km (4 districts, north of Ilam and north of Dadeldhura).
The following table shows the deployment of SSB para-military personnel per km and number of border check-posts in various segments along Indo-Nepal borderline :
- Security Sensitive Segment: 9 Districts = 725 km = 181 Check-posts
1 Check-post = distance of 3 to 5 km = 4 km on average
1 Check-post = 120 to 200 SSB = 160 SSB on average
1 Kilometer = 30 to 50 SSB = 40 SSB on average
- Under Observation Segment: 13 Districts = 780 km = 130 Check-posts
1 Check-post = distance of 5 to 7 km = 6 km on average
1 Check-post = 80 to 200 SSB = 140 SSB on average
1 Kilometer = 13 to 34 SSB = 24 SSB on average
- Normal Segment: 4 Districts = 303 km = 20 Check-posts
1 Check-post = distance of 10 to 20 km = 15 km on average
1 Check-post = 140 to 180 SSB = 160 SSB on average
1 kilometer = 8 to 13 SSB = 11 SSB on average
This figure shows that India has constructed 1 security check-post in every 5 to 8 km distance on an average and deputed 25 SSB personnel in one km i. e. one SSB stands in every 40 mtr distance in Indo-Nepal borderline.
II. Nepali perspective
Nepal has also deployed 4,800 Armed Police Force (APF) at Indo-Nepal border from March 5, 2007 to pay attention to the security of border pillars, and also for the vigilance of revenue leakage. At present they have deployed the forces at 20 districts adjoined with India and at three spots towards Chinese border.
Twenty-six administrative districts of Nepal have been adjoined with India. Armed Police Force (APF) has deployed border security personnel in 20 districts in the Nepal-India frontier. They have deputed 4,800 personnel in 20 districts at 112 border observation posts (BOP). Each district has 257 forces with 6 BOPs. So there are 42 APF personnel in each BOP on average.
If we calculate on the basis of the length of the border line, there is a stretch of 1,355 kilometer in 20 districts. And the total number of forces is 4,800. There are 112 BOPs at the length of 1,355 kilometer. According to this figure, there is 1 BOP in the distance of each 12 kilometer and 1 BOP bears 42 personnel. So there are 4 APF personnel in each and every kilometer distance.
It is beyond comparable that India has deployed 25 SSB personnel in the distance of 1 km; whereas Nepal has deployed 4 APF personnel in 1 km. On the other hand, Indian SSB personnel have been deputed just close to the No-man’s land, whereas Nepali APF offices have been established generally 2 to 4 km inside the border line.
In the case of Nepal-China border, there are three APF offices at Tatopani (Sindhupalchok District), Rasuwa Gadhi (Rasuwa District) and Jomsom (Mustang District) having 237, 45 and 40 APF personnel respectively. They are planning to deploy APF teams at Kimathanka and Tinkar and also in other points along the Chinese border in a near future.
It is notable that in the context of changing security situation, Nepal and India had jointly agreed to introduce passport / ID card system for the air-route passengers on 1 October 2000, after the hijacking of Indian Airplane from Katmandu on December 24, 1999. It also accepted the Indian proposal to implement the ID card system at one of the land-route crossing points (Nepalgunj-Rupaidiya), from November 1, 2005 on an experimental basis. So these are the initiation to implement regulated border management system.
5. Role and function of border fences and walls
It will not be a bad idea to erect barbed wire fencing in order to make Indo-Nepal border more secure. It protects the frontier area and it helps to regulate the border. The government of India, at least the last four years, has been alleging greater cross border terrorist activities through Nepal and the infiltration of its northern Jammu and Kashmir State by militants through Nepal, which shares a nearly 1,808 km long open border with India.
At the same time, India blames Nepal that Pakistani ISI agents are hiding in Nepali territory and they make plan staying in Nepal to create disturbance in India through the porous border. India further reiterates that Pakistani nationals illegally transact counter-fit Indian currency notes to India via Nepal. In response, government of Nepal assured India that such activities have not been carried out from the Nepali soil. If there are, it will take strict actions against them. But India is never satisfied with Nepal. As a matter of fact, all these blaming each other are the root cause of fenceless border between two nations.
Really, fencing the frontier of the common border between Nepal and India is a felt need of time in the 21st century. Cross-border crimes and illegal activities are increasing year after another. So it has to adopt some measures to maintain peace and security in both the nations. In this context, Indian State of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has demanded that Indo-Nepal border should be properly fenced and an all weather border road should also be constructed. He further said during Chief Minister’s conference on internal security in New Delhi that “Bihar is facing problems of illegal infiltration, smuggling of narcotics, fake currency, human trafficking, criminal and other related activities from across the Nepal as well as home grown Red-extremism. In this situation, Indo-Nepal border should be managed properly.”
Prior to this, India had made a home work to install barbed wire fencing along 50 kilometer Indo-Nepal border of Baharainch District of India (Jamuni to Dhodhari village of Bardiya District of Nepal). Indian security authority had said, it is important to construct barbed fencing with a view that Indian territory has been affected by the increasing Nepali Maoists activities.
In connection to fence the border, Times of India Daily reporter Shastri Ramachandran had asked Nepali Ambassador to India Dr. Bhekh Bahadur Thapa on February 4, 2000 “Good barriers make good neighbors. It is often mentioned that the discussions on open and porous entry points of the India-Nepal border do not hold. If a barbed wire fence is raised between the two countries, will it make us good neighbors or even worse ?
Dr. Thapa responded: the fundamental base of Indo-Nepal relations is the unobstructed movement of people, goods and services between both the countries. Even if any change is necessary to control any undesirable activities between the two countries, no violation should be made of that base of the relations.
It is also to be noted that Indian Ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood, hinted during an informal meeting with the locals that India was mulling over the idea of fencing its border with Nepal, while he was in Biratnagar (eastern Nepal industrial city) on November 2, 2009. Sood had also informed the mass in Biratnagar that the plan could be materialized in the short span of a year or two, if desired and compelled.
On the other hand, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao dispelled fears that the Indo-Nepal border would be fenced in the near future. However, the border must be properly managed, as there were security, smuggling, and law and order concerns. Rao was responding to a concern raised by a Nepali journalist who quoted an Indian official as warning him during a program entitled ‘Fractious Borders: The Ups and Downs of Himalayan Relationships’ that if any terrorist who attacked the Indian city of Mumbai in November 2008 were found to have entered India through the open border with Nepal, India would close down the border and fence it like its border with Bangladesh and Pakistan.
But very recently, India has constructed a 1.5 meter high mud wall and one meter deep trench from the border pillar number 81 to 82, adjoined with Dhodari village, Bardiya district to Suklaphanta of Nepal. The mud wall is around 12 km in length. While it was asked the purpose of mud wall, it was answered by the Indian forestry people that it is constructed for the security of wild animals. But local people say that it is the violation of international boundary principle to dig and encroach the No-man’s land.
With the analysis of above mentioned direct or indirect versions, it can be said that construction of wall and fences could obstruct the cross border crime and illegal export import of goods and machinery and wild animals as well. Anthropological approaches will also support for the management of border with some kind of barrier.
6. Fences in the development of security and insecurity
Porous and undemarcated border spaces have made the people insecure and it is related to their life and property as well. Unwanted elements flee across the open border with no restriction and they create terror and horror on the other frontier. Sometimes they disturb the identity of Nepal.
It’s really a ground truth that open border between Nepal and India has been misused by criminals, terrorists, illegal traffickers of arms and ammunitions. Criminals commit crimes in one frontier and they flee across the international border without any restriction. They remain hiding on the other side of the border. Peace and security, law and order have been adversely affected on both the territories by the continuation of porous border system.
In this context, Indian Ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood raised a point giving an interview to the Republica Daily (April 29, 2010) that ‘last year about 17-18 terrorists having links with various terrorist organizations were apprehended in different parts of India who had entered India via Nepal.’ It indicates that Pakistanis should have been able to enter Nepal as Indians as a result of porous border. As a matter of fact, not only Pakistani, but also Bangladeshi, Myanmar, Afghani and Iraqi have infiltrated illegally through open border in the outfit of Indian and Nepali nationals. We can identify them in Kathmandu’s bazar of Thamel. This is very much deplorable in respect of security situation.
In relation to security issue and open border, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao addressing a seminar on ‘Challenges in India’s Foreign Policy’ at National Defense College in New Delhi said that the issue of security co-operation on the open border, tackling common threats like fake currency and arms smuggling and criminal elements who operate along the border were matters of mutual concern. To safeguard peace, security and development within our own borders, India is developing a mutually beneficial relationship with her neighboring countries.
In the same way, during the visit of a group of young Nepali Members of Parliament to New Delhi, Indian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Praneet Kaur told Nepal MPs that their worry was the danger of anti-India elements exploiting the open border using Nepali soil to create security problem in India.
Indian political leaders have raised a voice that the business network of underworld Don Daud Ibrahim in Nepal has to be stopped. They have raised the issue of cross-border terrorism, linking Laskar-e Toyyiba member Muhmad Omar Madni and Dawood Ibrahim, a notorious underworld Don whom India suspects to be hiding in Nepal.
Concerning terrorists with open border, the whistle blower website WikiLeaks published a cable classified as “secret” concerning terrorists entered India via Nepal. It says: during a meeting with U S National Security Advisor James Jones in June 2009, then Indian Army Chief Deepak Kapoor said, at least 16 terrorists had sneaked through Nepal into India taking advantage of the open border, according to a report prepared by U S Embassy in New Delhi.
Similarly, United States Country Report on Terrorism- 2009 has cited that the large ungoverned spaces along the Nepal-India border exacerbates the vulnerability, and do security shortfalls at Nepal’s Tribhuvan International Airport. There is a possibility that members of extremist group could transit Nepal, especially into India. In June 2010, Lashkar-e Tayyiba (LT) member Muhammad Omar Madni traveled through Nepal enroute to New Delhi.
Additionally, Report on ‘Patterns of Global Terrorism- 2003’ mentions that weak border controls and poor security infrastructure have made Nepal a convenient logistic and transit point for some outside militants and international terrorists. The country also possesses a number of relatively soft targets that make it a potentially attractive site for terrorist operations. Security remains week at many public facilities.
Very recently, Nepal-India security concern meeting was held between the officials of two countries in Pune, India from April 5-8, 2011. In the meeting, it was decided to exchange information to control the cross border activities, because of the misuse of open border.
In the changing context of peace and security, law and order; and terrorist activities in some of the countries of the world and especially South Asia, it will be pragmatic to erect fences along Indo-Nepal border for the security of life and property of the people of both nations.
The other purpose of fencing the frontier between Nepal and India is to end conflicts, misunderstanding and doubts between two neighbors, arising from open and insecure border. Because of open border system, social aberrations are also visible among the inhabitants of both sides of the frontier. If the border between the two countries had been controlled and regulated by fencing, Nepali people would not have been so much terrorized by the criminals and dacoits from Indian frontier as well.
7. Last item
Nepal is an independent country since time immemorial. It is never dominated by any of the countries of the world. Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world is located in Nepal. And Nepal is the birthplace of Lord Buddha, an emblem of peace. Similarly, Gurkha soldiers and Sherpa mountaineers of Nepal are famous all over the world. These are the identities of Nepal. Fenceless border has threatened the identity and security of Nepal. To protect these identities, frontier of Nepal should be protected by walls or fences, not to let the nation as open transit for terrorists and criminals.
To execute above-mentioned points, Nepal and India must jointly come to an agreement to make the Indo-Nepal border safe and secure, installing barbed wire fencing in a phase wise basis for the security of both nationals. Blaming each other on the issue of peace and security must be stopped. For this, the border must be restricted for the terrorists, controlled for smugglers, checked to the criminals, obstructed for girl traffickers, and stopped for narcotic holders. But it must be regulated for the genuine passengers of Nepal and India with the efficient management for legal export and import of merchandise through the allocated entry and exit crossing points of the fenced boundary. Insecure Indo-Nepal border could be made secure, to a large extent, with the political will and commitment for fencing the frontier. Identities and security should be a key dimension with fencing the border for the people of both nations.
 Former Director General- Survey of Nepal, Managing Director- Bhumichitra Mapping Company and Executive Member- Border Concern Civic Committee- Kathmandu, Nepal
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