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Nepal border may turn out India’s soft underbelly
Neglecting the Nepal border with UP and its links with established mafia dons of the state could be disastrous. Let us hope UP does not commit a second Himalayan blunder. India had managed to make one in 1962, we simply cannot afford another.
ONE OF the biggest weaknesses in the Indian system today is that there are parts of the country where the benefits of economic growth have not percolated and there are segments of the Indian public who have been denied the fruits of this growth. These are soft areas for terrorists to inhabit. One of the reasons for this has been the rise of regional parties in several states of India. These parties and their leadership are often at loggerheads with the Central leadership which leads to conflicts. As such welfare programmes are not implemented properly or in such a manner so as to give a bad name to the Central programme.

And one of the biggest lessons the Indian voter has to learn from the 26/11 nightmare is that to strengthen national security it is very important that the economy of the country be strong too. Today, India’s economy is under attack from several fronts. Cheap Chinese goods are killing local industry, fake currency is taking its toll on the non-plastic sector of the economy, which is humungous compared to the regulated and electronic sector. The attack on Mumbai, India’s business capital, has achieved what the terrorists wanted and has left a dent of at least Rs 50,000 crore in the Indian economy.

However, in the battle against terrorism Uttar Pradesh has to play a major role where the impoverished, under-equipped and demoralised police force is virtually groping in the dark. The vast porous border between UP and Nepal is a modern day wild, wild West or Mafia-infested Sicily. The people are mostly poor but a distinct minority is very rich. How some of them have become rich is questionable. Arms smuggling, counterfeit currency trade, flesh trade – you name it and it is sure to happen here. There are border check posts but corruption and mismanagement have made them a minor hurdle for the criminals. If you have money and bullets to back you up, you can run your criminal empire here, no questions asked.

But what do terrorists have to do with this? Uttar Pradesh, which borders Nepal, has experienced a major proliferation of terror networks in the last decade. Lashkar-e-Toiba, which is being blamed for the Mumbai attacks, reportedly has a well-organised network of sleeper cells in the state. The Student Islamic Movement of India, an organisation that has been under the scanner for long is active in Uttar Pradesh.

Considering the threat posed by the Lashkar and allied groups, especially after the events in Mumbai, one would expect the Indian and Nepalese governments to take steps to control the wild border with Uttar Pradesh, or at least demand cooperation from each other in managing the border. The open border, which allows citizens from the two countries to travel freely back and forth without proper documents or security checks, is not serving either side. In fact, it is a gaping hole that actually helps criminals and terrorists.

Moreover, UP has its task cut out when it comes to modernising its police force. Where will it get the funds for one? Or will it commit itself to a 1962 like situation where a Himalayan blunder is repeated again, pitting young Indians carrying obsolete arms against modern well equipped infiltrators.

While the eyes of the nation are focussed on Pakistan the time has come for UP to look inwards at the armies of its Mafia dons, some of whom are cooling their heels in jails, but were important at the politicians in the government. The police officers in power today have to ask themselves where these dons got automatic weapons from? After all there was a well publicised case of one don actually buying a machine gun from an army man.

Some of them allegedly have bullet proof vehicles and some of them, especially one from Lucknow, was close to Dawood Ibrahim once. What do they have to say today? Do they have evidence and intelligence that could help the authorities or is the police willing to wait for another incident before they start looking into the assets of these dons? After all there was certain evidence that came to light after an attack on a CRPF camp in Rampur, one that could have raised an alarm regarding Mumbai, but it was ignored.

The Mayawati government has sent most of these dons to jail, but during the earlier regimes they managed to corporatise their empires and run them as managing directors of business companies. Therefore, putting them in jail does not put an end to their activities as their organisations exist and carry on. These activities cannot be beneficial for the common man and the state.

Just as putting the chairman of ITC into jail will not stop the production of Ashirwad flour so putting the gang leaders in jail will not stop their organisations from functioning because they need to work to live -– like all other businesses. And the nature of their business is varied.

The dons of UP, whether it is Azamgarh, or Unnao or Daliganj or Tulsipur or Balrampur or Mankapur or Gonda or Bahraich have passions ranging from interests in wildlife and timber to gun running, prostitution, politics and fake currency. At times they grab government contracts to make legitimate money, or if desperate, they harbour terrorists, provide them safe passage or intelligence. Or will they be content to live off the rent from properties they have created? If they opt for the latter then we are safe but if that money does not suffice for running their organisations then we are not. But are they under the scanner? We cannot say. However, at present neither the media nor government agencies are looking at the Nepal border.

You may say that I am being unnecessary hysterical about the Nepal border for after all terrorists come from the sea and we have to defend our coastline. I agree we do, but we should credit the enemy with some intelligence. The French before World War II believed that their fortifications and battery and border defences with Germany – which they called the Maginot Line – would prevent a German conquest of France. Yet Paris fell without a bullet being fired. The Germans crossed over into Belgium and walked into France through its unprotected underbelly -- the Belgium border.

Today, India’s unprotected underbelly is the Nepal border and it has been in the news for all the wrong reasons since the 1990s. There have been Maoists and their automatic weapons of Chinese make; there have been poachers and smugglers; there are dons on both ends and there are cases of fake currency being found, drugs being shipped and so on. Hundreds of gangs, especially caste-based gangs operate in this area and may have links with dons in Lucknow, who in turn may have links further on. This makes the situation untenable and leaves the ATS of UP with a Himalayan task before it. Let us hope UP does not become the ground for a second Himalayan blunder.

India has managed to make one in 1962, we simply cannot afford another. We desperately need to turn UP into a state which can combat terrorism, we need to modernise the police force, free it of political control too, for most of our dons are politicians also. Only then will we get results in the war against terror. So neglecting the security of UP could be our biggest blunder as a nation. The only way to beat terrorists is with intelligence. If you stop them at the point of delivery – as in Mumbai – you have already lost the battle.

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