Cry wolf in Kathmandu
If it was possible for an Indian magazine to drop a bombshell on a neighbouring country, then on 12 June India Today did so in the form of a leaked intelligence draft of a 'report' that claimed a whole battalion of well-known and not-so-well-known leaders of Nepali politics, media, business and society to be 'agents' (or alternatively 'contacts') of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Even more a matter of concern, the report's authors seemed to want to paint the entire Nepali Muslim community Pakistani-green, as if to be Muslim was to be pro-Pakistan and ipso facto an agent of the notorious ISI.
The fact that the report was leaked days before a visit to Nepal by India's National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra was seen as significant by a large portion of Kathmandu's intelligentsia and press, seeing this as an effort to pressure Nepal on a whole cluster of contentious issues that—from trade to territorial to monsoonal waterlogging —have brought Indo-Nepal relations to their lowest-ever point in the last decade of Nepali democracy.
The report understandably created an uproar in Nepal, not because people believed it—the finger pointed so indiscriminately—but because it topped all other previous leaks in the Indian press regarding alleged ISI infiltration of Nepal. Meanwhile, India Today's reporter had not done original research, but merely acted as a conduit for allegations. Apparently titled "Pakistan's anti-India activities in Nepal", the report was made available in full on the magazine's Website. To a kind eye, it looked like a draft prepared by some intelligence operatives out to please the political masters of the day, an internal document serving up a concoction of facts and unverified allegations.
Apparently titled "Pakistan's anti-India activities in Nepal", the report was made available in full on the magazine's Website. To a kind eye, it looked like a draft prepared by some intelligence operatives out to please the political masters of the day, an internal document serving up a concoction of facts and unverified allegations. Whether it was prepared within the Intelligence Bureau or the Research and Analysis Wing, or some other official Indian agency, the report did indicate the Nepal-wide nature of their operations. But this was not unexpected. What was unexpected was the poor level of analysis and the excessive reliance on coincidence and conjecture in reaching lackadaisical conclusions on individuals and institutions of another country. If this were in fact an authoritative report that was seen fit to be leaked, then one would have to worry about the quality of the intelligence-gathering apparatus of South Asia's greatest and nuclearised power.
The report names some of the known smugglers of gold (and other contraband) of Nepal and also lists a series of already-reported cases thought to be linked to the ISI, such as the use of a hotel safehouse, discovery of counterfeit Indian notes and RDX caches, and so on. However, these were cases already brought to the open by the Nepal Police, which by all accounts had acted with alacrity given India's sensitivities. What needs investigation now is whether these cases were the tip of the iceberg in relation to the activities of Pakistani intelligence in Nepal, or was that about it. The leaked report does not help in clarifying the point, but those who prepared it seem not to have considered the fact that the Nepali bureaucracy, journalists, politicians, and the intelligentsia as a whole, are protective enough of their polity not to allow the ISI a walk-through in Nepal.
Of course, every instance of the ISI using another South Asian country as a base to target India would be one too many, and the Nepali government must of course act when there is evidence. If necessary, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala must pick up the phone and call Chief Executive Parvez Musharraf and request him to call off the spooks. However, available information and discussions with knowledgeable members of Nepal's bureaucracy and police do not indicate the dire situation implied in the document, or as reported as a matter of course in the Indian press.
While the breathless naming of well-known Nepali-journalists, politicians and business people without supporting evidence must be considered extremely irresponsible, given the impact on individual hard-earned careers, it is the singling out of the Muslim community living largely in poverty in Nepal's Tarai region that has potentially larger ramifications. Without too much effort, the authors of the report give away their bias when they make the presumption that members of a community can be by their very nature a) anti-India, therefore b) Pakistan sympathisers and hence, c) 'agents/contacts' of the ISI. This is a dangerous line of thinking, particularly because the Tarai Muslims of Nepal are demographically identical to the Muslims across the open border, in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The fact that the discourse of the Nepali intelligentsia is mostly conducted in Nepali and hence does not reach the corridors of power of New Delhi with any sense of urgency, should not blind India's powers-that-be to the fact that there is 'public opinion' even in small countries like Nepal. Granted, this public opinion is often led by individuals who tend to be paranoically suspicious of every move of Big India, but leaks of reports like the one just released have the power of jostling a society off its moorings. And Nepal's stability should be a matter of enough concern to New Delhi that pressing issues are tackled directly and at the highest levels where necessary, rather than through under-the-table transfers of files to media persons who are unwilling to do their homework. Nepal's stability, of course, should be of concern because Nepal, Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are locked in a demographic, economic and geographic embrace which will remain in place whether or not the open border between the two countries is closed or regulated.
It will be important, if the matter is considered serious enough, for those who claim that the report did not reflect the official Indian point-of-view —as Brajesh Mishra did in Kathmandu —to investigate how and why such an amateurish report was prepared, and who it was that chose to leak it.