For any nation, national security comes first. It should be so for Nepal too.
The world is suffering from a global health crisis. The COVID-19 has brought suffering, fear, and death everywhere. Nepal is struggling to overcome these terrible situations. Nobody knows when the vaccines will come out. People are losing lives every day.
The COVID-19, however, has not only triggered the health crisis. It has added to the challenges in national security paradigms. In other words, national security threats are growing. It has had huge consequences in the sectors the governments have no capacity to rectify. The WHO has rightly said pandemic knows no international borders. Thus, Nepal too needs to think of the pandemic beyond health emergencies.
Many in Nepal tend to think that national security is related only to military power. But it is much more than that. More than human physical security, it has to do with the protection of its citizens and the rule of law.
Thus, first of all, Nepal needs to review what are potential threats. And based on these threats, Nepal should identify the highest level of national interest. In the last two decades, Nepal’s defence budget is steadily increasing, but we are missing the focal point of threats and opportunities. Unless, we identify the core components of national security objectives, we may not achieve our national security strategy. We need to look into our social means, economic means, development means, and other resources. For us, at the moment, health security and national security are the most pressing issues.
Nepal has long been practising non-aligned and independent foreign policy but this, at the moment, seems to be falling into the complexity of geopolitics. We seem to be losing our independent decision making capacity. Foreign aids are being controversial and the government seems to be failing to figure out whether these aids serve the best national interest. Nobody seems to care much about these pressing issues.
We should not forget that balance of power theory is still relevant for Nepal. Nepal should maintain diplomatic parity not only with India and China but also with other friendly countries. Saving nation from threats of terrorism, war and espionage is the order of the day to save Nepal.
So what are the immediate national security challenges for Nepal?
The first is the Covid-19 and its consequences. Nearly 90 percent of the people remain untested for Covid-19, which means there is no way of knowing exactly how many people in Nepal may be affected by that virus. The death toll is climbing sharply.
Needless to say, remittance is the lifeline of Nepali economy. Almost 5.4 million households receive remittances to run a vital lifeline for families. But now remittance flow has sharply declined, as millions of Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf and the Middle East are losing jobs and they are returning home or are desperate to return home. Estimated three million Nepalis work in the Gulf region. More than 25 percent are desperately waiting to return home. Majority of migrant workers are unskilled and thus might not get employment in Nepal. When they return home, since Nepal won’t be able to provide them jobs, this is likely to give birth to several problems.
People in the village and towns have already faced huge economic crisis due to falling rate of remittance flow. They struggle to pay rent. They struggle to buy food for their children. They struggle for survival. It is in such situation that prostitution, human trafficking, and other heinous crimes may flourish. Likewise, not all the returnees will be of peaceful disposition. Some of them return home with radicalized mind-sets. In many countries, reverse migration has resulted in extremism thereby posing security threats.
The challenge to security also emerges from the tendency of extremism within the country. Though the government has banned political activities for Netra Bikram Chand-led party, extortion, vandalism, and explosions are taking place. Biplav is leading well-trained frustrated former Maoist rebels. Neither they are happy with the current political system nor are they clear about what they want. These radicalized cadres might go out of Biplav’s grip. Besides, nobody knows the quantity of arms, ammunition and weapons his group has.
Lack of good governance, increasing corruption, lack of coordination and endless wrangling for power by the top leaders in Kathmandu have completely frustrated the people. The nexus between crime and politics stares at us. And the government is not able to properly monitor illegal activities, including money laundering.
The number of refugees is increasing in the country every year (think of Rohingyas). Forceful conversion and environmental challenges such as landslides and soil erosion triggered by global warming are emerging.
Terrorism and trans-border terrorism are also serious threats to Nepal. Due to the weak national intelligence mechanism and lack of profiling of suspected terrorist organizations and radicalized people, unpleasant incident may take place anytime. Open porous border with India has often been used by cross-border criminal network to foment crime in both Nepal and India. The cases of cybercrime has rapidly increased after the lockdown. Foreign hackers are targeting the government's website for hacking purpose. May be the hackers are easily accessing and stealing our information.
National sovereignty is important for every nation. Thus Nepal should take precautions to enhance its security capabilities. At present, border dispute with India is a prime concern. Nepal shares an open border with India, which is unique in the world. Nepalis wish and hope that India will withdraw its troops from Kalapani and will begin the diplomatic dialogue with Nepal.
There are reports of foreigners holding Nepali citizenships and committing crimes. Last year the government of Nepal had deported 122 Chinese nationals who were arrested on suspicion of engaging in "cyber and financial" crime. Nepal's banking sectors are under threat. To prevent such kind of cybercrime, Nepal urgently needs modern cyber security mechanisms.
For any nation, national security comes first. It should be so for Nepal too. To serve Nepal's national interest, we must modernize our security mechanism and must go to a high-tech system. National Investigation Department and Armed Police Force (APF), which works for our border security, should be equipped with resources and modernized. Ministry of Home should have a proper plan to modernize APF and Nepal Police. And Nepal Army should also stand vigilant all the time.
National security is a serious issue and it needs to be taken seriously by the government stakeholders.
The author is a researcher on security and terrorism issue