Nepal police Friday stepped up investigations into the background of two Pakistanis arrested in Nepal for smuggling explosives as a local court sent the duo to police custody for five days amid speculations that they could be linked to Tuesday's terror blasts in Mumbai.
Ghulam Hussain Cheema and Aftab Mahaddin Siddiqui were arrested in Kathmandu on Thursday after police received an alert that the two men, wanted in connection with a five year old case involving a senior Pakistani diplomat caught with 16.5 kg of RDX, had resurfaced in Nepal.
The timing of the two men's arrival in the Nepal capital could have a link to the seven blasts in local trains in Mumbai on Tuesday or new activities of Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI.
While media reports said a team of officials from India's Research and Analysis Wing and Intelligence Bureau was arriving to question the duo, both Nepal police and the government said they had no information about the arrival of Indian investigators.
"We are looking into the five year old RDX case," maintained Dhak Bahadur Karki, officer in charge at the Kathmandu police station.
Cheema and Siddiqui were based in Kathmandu in 2001, ostensibly working for a Pakistani construction firm, Sachel Engineering Works Ltd, which could be a front for ISI.
The credentials of the firm came under a cloud in April 2001, when the then first secretary (consular) at the Pakistani Embassy here, Arshad Cheema, was arrested at the firm's office-cum-residence in the capital with the cache of RDX. He was declared persona non grata by the Nepal government and deported.
However, Ghulam Hussian Cheema, an accounts officer at Sachel, and Sidiqui, a senior project manager, managed to escape.
The duo's re-entry into Nepal this month is suspiciously close to the series of train blasts that occurred in Mumbai, resulting in the death of over 200 people.
According to Karki, the duo arrived here July 4 aboard Pakistan International Airline's Karachi-Kathmandu flight.
They checked into the upscale Everest Hotel in the Baneshwor area, a place they are familiar with since the Sachel office too was in the same area.
According to the hotel staff, the pair checked out July 11 but police say they were arrested from there Thursday.
"The men told us they have come here to collect the payment for an old road construction project," Karki told IANS.
Collecting payments, however, seems to an implausible reason for their return to Nepal, given the fact that the explosive smuggling case was hanging over their heads.
Sachel, which entered Nepal in 1996-97 and is said to be bidding for several World Bank-funded road building projects in the country, shot into notice in 1996 when its then project director Rahat Ali Rao made a generous contribution to a Kashmir Relief Fund, for which the then Pakistani Ambassador to Nepal was appealing for donations.
There are allegations that Sachel is employing former Gurkha soldiers in the Indian Army so that they can be used for espionage by ISI.
The expelled Pakistani diplomat, Arshad Cheema, is also linked with the hijacking of an Indian Airline flight from Kathmandu in 1999. The IC-814 hijack to Kandahar was masterminded and executed by terrorist organisation Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), previously known as Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA) with the help of Pakistani intelligence operatives posted in Nepal.