Amid row, Nepal plans increase in border posts
The Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), which guards India’s borders with Nepal, and India’s central intelligence agencies have information that Nepal’s Armed Police Force (APF), deployed at the border, has already been given approval for an additional 100 border posts by that country’s home ministry.
Nepal plans to increase the number of its border outposts (BoPs) along the boundary with India by 100, from the existing 121 to 221 in the next year, in a move that, while it has been in the works for some time, comes at a time when friction between the two countries is high over a new map approved by the Himalayan country’s parliament that lays claim to territory that has always been with India.
The idea is to eventually take this number up to 500, people familiar with the matter said.
The Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), which guards India’s borders with Nepal, and India’s central intelligence agencies have information that Nepal’s Armed Police Force (APF), deployed at the border, has already been given approval for an additional 100 border posts by that country’s home ministry. A proposal for taking this number to 500 is under consideration, a top government official said on condition of anonymity.
Kedar Nath Sharma, joint secretary and spokesperson at Nepal’s ministry of home affairs, confirmed the immediate plan in a phone interview from Kathmandu.
“Yes, we are going to increase the number of BoPs at the Indo-Nepal border from the existing 121 to 221 in the next Nepali fiscal year. I cannot say anything about the further plans”. The next Nepali fiscal year is from July 16, 2020 to July 15, 2021.
A senior Nepal APF officer who asked not to be named said over the phone that the country is increasing the number of outposts to “keep a check on border crimes and to make sure unauthorised persons do not enter the country”.
Interestingly, some of the outposts are around Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura, three of the territories Nepal now claims are its.
On Saturday, Nepal’s parliament voted unanimously to amend its constitution to redraw the country’s political map laying claim over the strategically key areas of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura.India has termed the decision “untenable” and in violation of current understanding to hold talks on outstanding border issues.
Queries sent to the ministry of external affairs (MEA) and ministry of home affairs (MHA) on Nepal’s plans for new outposts remained unanswered.
Experts are divided on the development, with some saying that erection of more outposts should not be a cause of concern as India and Nepal have a very good working relationship and there has never been a dispute between APF and SSB.
Others believe the move is badly timed, given the current situation in the relationship between the two countries.
Those subscribing to the first school of thought said India has 533 BoPs of SSB at the 1,751km-long open border with Nepal, and argued that Nepal’s APF, too, has a right to erect as many posts it wants.
A senior SSB officer, who didn’t want to be named, said: “We (SSB and Nepal APF) guarding forces have a mechanism where commanding officers interact on regular basis, information is shared on network of criminals, human traffickers, counterfeit currency and drugs smugglers and even movement of terrorists.”
In a one-off incident, Nepal APF fired upon a group of Indian villagers who had entered Nepal in violation of the lockdown underway there, near Sitamarhi (Bihar), killing one person and injuring two.
The director general of SSB, Kumar Rajesh Chandra, didn’t respond to phone calls or texts seeking a comment.
“It is in the interest of both countries that the open border between India and Nepal is not used by hostile elements whether for smuggling or trafficking in counterfeit currency or terrorist infiltration. For this, if Nepal APF wants to increase their presence and works in coordination with the SSB, which also has more than 500 BoPs, then I think it is a positive development,” Rakesh Sood, former ambassador to Nepal, said.
But the timing is bad, said another former diplomat.
Manjeev Puri, who has served as ambassador in Nepal, said: “India has reacted to Nepal laying claim to Indian territory in a new map in a firm but diplomatic manner, making clear that what the Nepalese have done is untenable. Nepal’s decision to add more BoPs on their side at this time should not have been done as it adds to an avoidable narrative of escalating tensions. India and Nepal have long-standing people-to-people relations, which need to be strengthened, especially during these unprecedented times of Covid-19.”