Kathmandu: The country reports on terrorism (2021) released by the United States Department of State last week has painted a bleak picture of the security system in Nepal, particularly the security at Tribhuvan International Airport and border crossing points. While acknowledging that there were no terrorist incidents reported in Nepal in 2021 and there were no significant changes to counterterrorism laws in Nepal in 2021, the report says that airport security in Nepal is weak.
“Airport security controls in Nepal are weak and inadequate. Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport does not prescreen passengers, and landing data are not entered into any database,” says the report adding that physical security checks of passengers are rudimentary.
“There is no travel document security, and the airport lacks ultraviolet lights to examine documents.”
The report also cites an open border with India and lack of security controls as potential challenges to security in Nepal. “Nepal shares an open border with India. There are some checkpoints along the 1,000-mile border, but these lack sufficient security controls and are sometimes staffed by only one immigration official,” says the report. “Most people crossing the border are neither stopped nor checked, and the crossing points can easily be circumvented to avoid scrutiny.”
The report cites a lack of resources, information stovepiping among security sector and civilian agencies, and a lack of political will to deploy a more robust approach as the primary constraints preventing more effective border-control capability. “Additional constraints include lack of training and widespread corruption,” says the report.
While mentioning that the Nepali government does not provide political, diplomatic, or financial support for international terrorism and does not knowingly permit Nepal to be used as a safe haven for terrorists or terrorist groups, the report says that open borders and insufficient security protocols at the airport could make Nepal a transit point for international terrorism. “Because of the open border with India and insufficient security protocols at the country’s sole functioning international airport in Kathmandu; however, Nepal has and could be used as a transit or staging point for international terrorists,” says the report.
The report also says that Nepal does not employ strategic communications to counter violent extremism. “The government generally does not view violent extremism, specifically violent extremist ideology originating from conflict/instability in the Middle East, as a significant threat in Nepal. A more significant threat is non-Nepali international terrorist groups using Nepal as a transit/staging point or soft target,” says the report.
How should Nepal take this report by the State Department? Nepal Live Today asked Narayan Adhikari, who is a researcher on national security and counterterrorism.
“Though Nepal does not have a direct threat, there remains a possible challenge of terrorist groups targeting third countries using Nepal as a transit point,” said Narayan Adhikari. “In this sense, we need to be concerned about the report of the State Department. It is a matter of concern that Nepal is perceived as a country with weak security especially regarding counterterrorism response.”
According to him, Nepal needs to take the report of the State Department seriously and step up measures to enhance our security system at the airports as well as at the border entry areas. “We need to train our immigration officials on counterterrorism. We need to have effective screening systems at the border as well as at the airport.”
Adhikari argues that there is a lack of proper security cooperation and coordination among the security agencies in Nepal. “We do not have the records of people entering Nepal from other countries via land routes. And we do not have a permanent immigration mechanism,” he said. “These are the big challenges.”
“We need to strengthen the security and immigration system at the airport as well as the border entry points.”
So, what should Nepal do? “We need to strengthen the security and immigration system at the airport as well as the border entry points. We need a proper scanning system at the walk through gate of the airport. We need an integrated central database with individual watch list, document detection system, criminal database, mobile and other device detection system and real time text and biometric data correlation with security and civil agencies,” said Adhikari. According to him, at times, the role of our immigration department at the airport appears to be limited to putting immigration clearance stamps on the passports of the passengers and letting them exit. “Immigration unit should be developed as a mechanism that implements the immigration law and that also monitors the situation.”
Adhikari says that we need K9 units (police dog units) at border entry checkpoints to detect drugs, explosives, and other contraband apart from installing screening and face recognition devices. “We need biometric technology to scan individuals at border crossings. We need cameras and thermal sensors to detect movement and other activity in the border areas as well as at the airport.”
“Most of all, the country needs to remain alert about the potential terrorist threats all the time so that we won’t be perceived as a nation with security threat by other countries.”