An Analysis of Security Concerns Arising From Indo-Nepal Open Border

The long-standing ties between history, culture, tradition, and religion provide the foundation of the close, extensive, and nuanced linkages between India and Nepal, which are increasingly apparent in their engagements in politics, society, and the arts, sciences, and religions. To add up the formal flavor to such historical relations, the two countries established diplomatic relations on 17 June 1947. Our bilateral relations have been expanding on a solid basis of unflinching adherence to the ideals of peaceful coexistence, sovereign equality, and respect for one another’s ambitions and sensibilities. Relationships between Nepal and India go beyond the treaties and accords signed between the two nations. The characteristic of the relations between the two nations is the regular high-level visits by the two country’s leaders at various times and the contacts. Due to such visits, a more mature and practical foundation has been established for these bilateral friendship and cooperation connections, which have also contributed to the promotion of goodwill, trust, understanding, and collaboration between the two nations.

Despite sharing such a unique bilateral connection, the relationship between Nepal and India is not free from upheavals, which occur continuously. Numerous times, inclement weather has affected the relationship between the two nations. Following the death of 9-year-old Pawan Mahara of the Vyas Rural Municipality in the Darchula district, tensions in the Lipulek-Kalapani border region have recently risen.  Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a diplomatic note to India regarding the death of a nine-year-old boy who was killed after being hit by a stone that flew in a blast carried out for the widening of the Tavaghat-Lipulek road by India across the Mahakali River in western Nepal. On September 2021, a diplomatic note was sent to India over the death of 33-year-old Jay Singh Dhami. The Nepalese side feels that India is neglecting the issues and not taking the sensitivity of the border issues, as the former is yet to receive assurance of the commitment to border management.

Nepal’s responsible attitude of not allowing its territory to be exploited by any forces hostile to India and its expectation of reciprocity and guarantees from her indicate its sincere wish to establish and nurture amicable relations with its neighbors. The open border between India and Nepal continues to distinguish our relations. The freedom of our people’s migrations to one another’s area and the improvement of contacts have been substantially helped by the available frontier. However, the open border is not always “icing on the cake” for both countries. Due to the open border, both countries have faced several problems concerning security issues time and again. By bringing in illegal operations like money laundering, human trafficking, drug smuggling, and arms trafficking, among others, an open border endangers the peace and security of the country and feeds a vicious cycle of crime. Illicit trade and smuggling are major trade security issues fueled by open border status. Both governments are trying to find out methods to neutralize such illicit activities. Cross-border crime is also rampant due to open borders. Many criminals fled their respective countries after committing crimes.

Many refugees come to Nepal through the Indian route, resulting in upheavals in the country’s internal dynamics. Due to people’s unrestricted and unauthorized movement, the open aspect of the Indo-Nepal boundary has been a significant difficulty. From east to west, the boundary spans around 1800 kilometers. Due to the zigzag terrain, vast swathes of territory, and remote settlements connected with no man’s land on both sides, security officers in bordering states have a very tough assignment. Capturing fugitives and smugglers is challenging because the zigzag blended no man’s land. They most likely conceal themselves in communities across no man’s land. Border residents have sentiments of insecurity as a result of unresolved encroachment issues. The difficulties the security officers have been having at the borders are causing them to voice their displeasure. The link between these issues and performance is adverse. Performance improves as a result of the issue reduction.

For both nations, security-related concerns are of the utmost importance. The two nations have created the Joint Working Group on Border Management (JWG) and Border District Coordination Committees to address each other’s security issues, and they have formalized Home Secretary-level discussions (BDCCs). Despite having an open border with India, Nepal lacks border-specific regulations to control and manage these border-related challenges. Strengthening the nation’s security forces is necessary for maintaining Nepal’s peace, safety, and development.

However, for India to effectively respond to any security danger, Nepal must be the center of an accurate and trustworthy information apparatus. Together with Nepalese security forces, coordinated operations must be carried out along the Indo-Nepal border to kill or neutralize terrorists who threaten both nations. Also included in the security architecture should be India’s Border States. Nevertheless, it is necessary to delicately forward this notion to the Nepalese government. We must engage in a cooperative discussion to enhance the border transit mechanism as soon as possible. India must drop its mindset of being the big brother and incorporate Nepal into its security paradigm if we are to make this a success. The current imperative is for integrated border control, which includes cutting-edge sensors, drones, and transportation and intervention tools. To stop groups based in Pakistan and Afghanistan from using Nepal as a base for terrorism against India, the federal and state security agencies and forces must cooperate with the Nepalese security forces.

It is time to strengthen the security forces’ capabilities by providing them with the appropriate tools, resources, and training. Institutionalizing the pay and reward management process, combining ethics and values, and modifying the technological infrastructure are necessary. Border crimes are being fueled by catalysts, including poverty, unemployment, population expansion, technological improvement, and the stock market. By creating trained labor and developing effective policies, the nation’s security forces should be more proactive and brave in stopping border crimes. There should have been cooperation in the multi-sector involvement with essential stakeholders for improved management. Further study of the topic is necessary to understand it thoroughly.

In conclusion, it is vital to maintain the openness of the Indo-Nepal border, but doing so will only be successful if effective control mechanisms are implemented. It may be possible to find viable ideas for improved border control with additional research and debate, which can help to tackle security concerns caused due to open borders. All relevant agencies should understand the requirement for security investment in line with global standards. Nepal’s border security needs to be improved by understaffing, a lack of funding, low morale and motivation, a lack of incentives, and clarity in the strategy and policy. The Nepalese government must take the appropriate actions to increase border security, which include formulating policies, developing cooperative diplomatic plans, adjusting technology, collaborating on operations, inventorying human resources, and enacting institutional changes.

Avinav Singh Khatri
Avinav Singh Khatri
AVINAV SINGH KHATRI is a research intern at Nepal Institute for International Co-operation and Engagement (NIICE) and holds a Master's degree in International Studies from Symbiosis School of International Studies, Pune. His research interests include political and peacebuilding affairs, governance, foreign policy, social justice, and humanitarian and development issues.