Twilight Zone

Twilight Zone

I:     Diplomatic intrigue

II:    The underworld warlord

III:   Working on the Gurkhas

IV:   The auctioned airport

V:    Down with India!

VI:   The Naxal connection

VII:  Another viewpoint

'There's no room for complacency when you have a rouge in the neighbourhood'

Krishna V Rajan, a member of the Indian Foreign Service 1965 batch, has been the Indian ambassador to Nepal since March 1995. An experienced foreign service officer and one of the seniormost officers in the Indian diplomatic community, Rajan is a man of measured words.

E-Mail this report to a friend The affable Rajan is now working overtime to deal with the anti-India sentiment raised in the wake of the hijack of Flight 814.

In an interview with Josy Joseph at his office in the Indian embassy in Kathmandu on January 8, he spoke about the post-hijack scenario, the threat from the Inter-Services Intelligence and other issues of concern.

What has been the response in Nepal to the hijacking?

I think there was tremendous shock that a hijacking occurred at Tribhuvan International airport, that it was an Indian Airlines aircraft that was hijacked -- an aircraft of a very friendly country and a country with which Nepal has unique ties. I think there is awareness now that it is important to ensure that this kind of incident never occurs again, and that whatever needs to be done will be done to create the necessary confidence in the infrastructure and security arrangements at the airport, the procedures laid down and also, perhaps more importantly, to tackle the root cause for this act of international terrorism -- Pakistan's continuing obsession with somehow internationalising the Kashmir issue.

Not resolving it, mind you, simply internationalising it. Its last effort in this direction was the Kargil offensive. It failed miserably. What Pakistan could not achieve at Kargil, it was obviously hoping to do through this hijacking.

Did some irresponsible media reports from Delhi hurt Nepali sentiments?

I think it is best not to discuss in the media about correspondence or exchanges at that level. If you don't mind, I wouldn't like to comment on that particular aspect.

Do you think the media mishandled the hijacking crisis, negatively influencing public opinion in Nepal?

No. There is no question of anyone mishandling the crisis. The public here has understood the anguish, distress, shock, disappointment, even anger, in India at what has happened. There were tremendous pressure, both on the media and the government, to respond to the need for information about the safety and early release of the crew and passengers on the aircraft and also on the background of the whole episode -- as to how and why it happened. So it was natural that there was a magnifying glass placed on arrangements at the Tribhuvan International Airport. Speculative theories were advanced, sometimes without complete verification of the facts. There was some over-simplification, which created some resentment here.

There is no doubt that reports and distortions, particularly regarding the claim that one of the five hijackers was a Nepali and the incorrect identification of the Nepalese passengers, created the feeling that Nepal has not, perhaps, been very fairly treated by some sections of the Indian media.

This is not the first time that media comment (has influenced opinion). Also, it will not be the last. But it will pass. Our relationship is such that it can never be endangered by occasional bouts of turbulent weather.

Perhaps your question should be turned on its head: Ask not what the effect of media reporting is on India-Nepal ties, but rather whether reportage of this event should not have some effect on the media itself -- on both sides of the border. Should it not provoke deeper introspection within the media on how events of this nature can be handled with greater balance and sensitivity?

You know that the hijacking does not seem to be an isolated incident. It seems to be the manifestation of something different, someone misusing this very peaceful country. Is that so, and is this a result of organised crime?

There is a very constructive ongoing dialogue at different levels between India and Nepal on activities by hostile forces from a third country aimed against India from Nepalese soil, and taking advantage of the open border.

When Foreign Minister Shri Jaswant Singh was here recently, this issue was discussed with great seriousness. We have received understanding and co-operation, both at the operational and political levels, from the successive governments in both countries.

But the fact is that when you have a rogue element in your neighbourhood that indulges in this kind of activity, without paying much heed to the consequences, there is no room for complacency. The latest example of this, you must be aware, is the expulsion of an official of the Pakistani embassy by his Majesty's Government after he was caught red-handed dealing in counterfeit Indian currency.

We have been aware that there have been such activities by Pakistan to generate funds for terrorist-related activities and also to undermine the traditional India-Nepal trade and economic relationship. The latest episode showed the clear political will of the government of Nepal to firmly curb activities like these, apart from exposing Pakistan's aims and activities.

How strong is the ISI network?

It is, unfortunately, quite strong. This is a subject of continuing discussions in Nepal at the appropriate levels. It is a very sensitive subject, about which it would be very difficult to say much in detail to the media.

But we must guard against giving the impression that activities aimed against India from Nepalese soil occur or can occur with the knowledge and connivance of the government. As I have said, there has been excellent co-operation with successive governments here; this co-operation will continue and be strengthened as necessary.

Is the ISI using taking the narco-terrorist route to fund terrorism?

The nexus between narcotics, unauthorised trade generally and terrorism is always there. It is natural for hostile forces to misuse the open border, sending across unfriendly elements and smuggling arms, narcotics and other sensitive items. Nepal is aware of the possibility and Indo-Nepal co-operation to prevent misuse of the open border, including in this area, is constantly under review.

Is it true that the ISI is arming the Maoists. What information do you have? It this of concern to India.

Nobody really knows too much about the Maoists's links with other organisations or with other countries. I do not want to say anything more on this matter at this stage.

Will travel between India and Nepal be made more stringent and, if so, how?

We have a Joint Working Group on border management between the two countries. I am sure that, particularly after this episode, this will be one of the aspects reviewed. We must make it impossible for third nation nationals to pass off as Indian or Nepali nationals and travel by air or across the open border for activities aimed against either country.

How does India assess the growth of the multi-party system here over a decade or so?

We have had several governments in Nepal and, also, quite a few in India. I think it is interesting that despite frequent changes of governments in the two countries, we have been able to maintain a certain sense of continuity and direction in terms of the expansions and strengthening of bilateral co-operation. Very important treaties have been signed on co-operation in water resources, trade, transit, investment, power, trade...

The ratification of the Mahakali treaty by more than a two-thirds majority in the Nepalese parliament, at a time of considerable political uncertainty and change, is, by itself, a very impressive pointer to the maturity of multi-party democracy in Nepal. The recent elections have also been an impressive tribute to the maturity of the electorate.

It is widely accepted and known that corruption in Nepali politics is rampant. There have been reports about the auctioning of an airport. Are these affecting bilateral relations? How do you assess the level of corruption.

I think it will be very unwise for me to make any comment on this besides pointing out that corruption knows no national boundaries. It is something on which it is best not to pontificate.

What have you done about the mistaken identification of the Nepali passenger on board the hijacked aircraft who was thought to be a hijacker? Have you taken any step?

The Government of India made it clear at the earliest possible opportunity that all five hijackers are Pakistani nationals. Nepal is very grateful for the efforts made by India to secure the safe release of all the passengers, including the eight Nepalese nationals, one of whom was Mr Tamrakar himself.

One can only feel deeply sorry for the concerned individual and his family, for all the anguish and the pain that must have been caused by the mistaken identification. But that is now a closed chapter.

Design: Dominic Xavier

Twilight Zone | Diplomatic intrigue | The underworld warlord
Working on the Gurkhas | The auctioned airport | Down with India!
The Naxal connection | Another viewpoint

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