In perhaps the most infamous assassination on Nepali soil, in 2010, Jamim Shah, a media mogul, was shot dead, in the middle of the day, in a heavily-fortified area in Lazimpat. The police suspected the two shooters who were firing from a motorcycle were from India and had links to the Indian underworld. Then in 2012, in another blatant day-time shooting, Faizan Ahmad, the general secretary of the Islamic Association of Nepal, was murdered in front of Ghantaghar. The police were able to establish that the same criminal nexus was behind both these murders and had arrested four people, including three Indian nationals, in connection with Ahmad’s killing. Fast-forward to 2017. On Wednesday, Nepal Police arrested from Kamaladi two Indian nationals who had in their possession an automatic pistol, four magazines and 51 rounds of bullets. Police suspect they came to Nepal with the intent of assassinating one or more high-profile persons. Coming on the eve of the two-phase federal and provincial elections, this is a troubling development, suggesting that the suspected sharpshooters had been hired to destabilize elections, or at least to influence them in favor of certain individuals or political parties.
Another troubling aspect of the twin arrests on Wednesday evening is that the police were able to apprehend the gun-toting persons only after one of them had accidentally opened fire following a small spat at a restaurant. If the police didn’t have this lucky break, who knows what these men would have done! The borders with India are closed on election days in Nepal, precisely to prevent criminal elements from across the border from influencing the elections. But since most of the election-related mischief happens well ahead of the election day, it makes sense to tighten the borders, say, at least a month in advance. No one should be allowed into the country with guns and ammunition at such a sensitive time. Nepal Police has reportedly increased security for all designated VVIPs following Wednesday’s arrests. But this alone won’t suffice. Nepali and Indian authorities must immediately sit together and work out a strong and mutually-acceptable surveillance border mechanism, to be in place until the completion of the second phase of the elections on December 7.
Such easy smuggling of arms into Nepal also points to the laxity of our security personnel deployed at important border points like Raxaul-Birgunj. After all, the two men were given the green light to proceed into Nepal via a well-manned ‘checkpoint’. It is important that the police get to the bottom of this incident at the earliest to reassure the thousands of election candidates and millions of the electorate who are looking forward to these elections with great expectations. It is no secret that many criminal elements, both in and outside Nepal, are looking to sabotage the elections. They can strike anywhere, anytime. Maintaining high vigilance is the only credible way to deter them. The last thing the poll-bound country needs right now is a Jamim Shah-like high-profile murder and the resulting hysteria.