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VII: Another viewpoint
VIII: The ambassador speaks
Josy Joseph in Kathmandu
Having established itself in Kathmandu, the Inter-Services Intelligence is now riding into the hinterland of Nepal, moving into villages where poverty is rife, using the construction industry in the area to make its entry.
Under the garb of repairing and maintaining roads, the ISI has already managed to establish its presence in the Nepali countryside, from where over 100,000 of India's Gurkha soldiers come. The warning bells sounded during the Kargil conflict, when unprecedented protests and anti-Indian rumours rang across the region after 18 Gurkha soldiers died in the fighting with Pakistan. The locals accused India of using the Gurkhas as cannon fodder.
In 1994, Sachal Engineering Works (Private) Limited secured a government contract to repair, gravel and black-top the Marshyangdi-Kairenitar section of the road running into Pokhara, Nepal's famous hill station.
The contract was originally scheduled to end in 1997, but is still to be completed. The Nepal government recently issued an ultimatum to the company asking it to finish the contract by February 2000. There is nothing unusual in this delay in a country where corruption is rampant, but the evidence indicates that there may be more to it.
Sachal Engineering has its headquarters at 52 West, I floor, Blue Area, Islamabad. This upmarket area of the Pakistani capital is where most government offices are located. Indian intelligence agencies have warned the Indian government that Sachal Engineering is a front for the ISI's operations in Nepal.
In Nepal, it has an office on Panchakumari Marg, near Baneswor in Kathmandu. There, it is headed by Ghulam Hussain China. According to confidential reports the Indian government has received, he and 13 other Pakistani company officials are "frequent visitors to Muslims families near the border."
The company started its operations by recruiting 30 Gurkhas who had worked with the Indian army's Border Roads cell or the GREF. As the company began its operations, it began recruiting more and more former Indian soldiers, giving them and their relatives well-paid jobs.
There are about 100,000 Gurkha soldiers in the Indian army, and most of them hail from this region. Besides, over 85 per cent of over 100,000 retired Indian army personnel live in the area where the road is being constructed. Most of the 1,800 Gurkhas recruited every year into the Indian army also come from this area.
According to sources in the Nepali and Indian governments, Sachal Engineering has now submitted tenders to the department of roads for maintenance of the Hartok-Tanghas Road (a stretch of 62.62 km), the Tanlihawa-Lumbini Road (22 km) and the Syangja-Tansen Road (45.65 km).
The company has also submitted tenders to extend/renovate the Biratnagar airport, located strategically close to the Indian border. In fact, sources said Sachal Engineering hopes to maintain that important airport on a permanent basis. Biratnagar is another place where many Gurkha soldiers of the Indian army live.
According to one report the Indian government has received, Sachal's bid for the airport and the new roads, most of which are close to the Indian border, may be part of the ISI's plan to create trouble in India.
The proposed works, if cleared, will also give the ISI easy access to the northeastern part of India. In fact, the government has been warned that the area around this airport could house a full-fledged base for the ISI in its operations in the northeast. Already, northeastern separatist groups like the United Liberation Front of Asom rely on ISI assistance.
The ISI also hopes to use the Phulbari-Bangla Bandhu road to Bangladesh since infiltrators are routinely sent into India through Bangladesh.
If Sachal Engineering bags the contract for the other roads too, it could give the ISI access to over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees living in five camps in the Jhapa district of Nepal. The refugee problem is already a sensitive one. And the ISI knows that further exploitation of these people could have a detrimental effect on India.
Design: Dominic Xavier
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