India Again Presses Nepal on Sky Marshals in Airplanes. This Time With a Veiled Threat

If Indians do not trust Nepali security apparatus at the Kathmandu airport, they should stop flying to Nepal for the time being. Why should, after all, they take the risk?

India has once again asked Nepal to allow it to deploy sky-marshals in its airplanes flying out from Kathmandu. While the request is not new this time it comes with a veiled threat. India has conveyed to Nepal- at the highest levels- that it expects a “prompt and positive” response and could even be forced to take “unilateral action” in the eventuality of a hijack from Kathmandu, according to a report in today’s Indian Express, an Indian daily. The Indian government underlined this message, thinly veiled threat, to visiting Nepalese Home Minister Bhim Rawal during a meeting with Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram on last week (18 Jan), according to the Express. Rawal was also told about the Indian apprehension that jehadis could have crossed into Nepal via its porous land border and could be waiting for an opportunity to strike. [Now the question is: what was India doing while jehadis were crossing into Nepal via its land? It should be noted that terrorists didn’t come via Nepal to attack Mumbai on 26 November 2008.]

While Nepal should respect the Indian sentiment and implement stringent security measures at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, particularly the Indian airplanes flying out from there, it should not bow to the Indian threat. If they do not trust Nepali security apparatus at the Kathmandu airport, Indians should stop flying to Nepal for the time being. Why should, after all, they take the risk?

The Indian government on Friday (January 22) put all Air India planes operating in India’s neighbourhood on high security alert, and directed the airlines to deploy sky marshals, following intelligence inputs that Pakistan-based Lashar-e-Taiba (LeT) and other terror groups were planning to hijack a flight, according to a Press Trust of India report.

While the Indian démarche on Nepal comes after Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami terrorist Mohammed Amjad aka Khwaja, arrested in Chennai on January 16, reportedly suggested a jehadi plot to hijack Indian aircraft flying in South Asia, the Indian intention to put sky marshals is not new. More than a year ago India wrote to Nepal’s Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoTCA) seeking permission to arm its airplanes flying out from Kathmandu. The Ministry then forwarded the letter to Home Ministry in Autust last year asking for the latter’s opinion on the issue.

“Though ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) has a provision for air-marshals, we have so far not taken any decision on the matter as it can become a serious political agenda related to the country´s national security, given the fluid political situation,” said a highly-placed source at the Home Ministry, according to a report published in Republica in August 2009.

The Indian Proposal

According to the Indian proposal, an air-marshal who will be in civilian dress but armed will be positioned at a separate corner inside the Indian plane. Passengers will not be aware of the air-marshal´s presence as the latter will be separated and will remain quiet. The air-marshal will not get off the plane at the Nepali airport. He will remain inside the plane and return to India with the plane.

Under ICAO provisions, if an armed person needs to get off the plane, in this case, at a Nepali airport, he will hand over his weapon to Nepali security as per Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). The SOP will be developed at the time the two countries ink a memorandum of understanding over the matter. The ICAO provisions say the air-marshal is never allowed to show his weapon unless the flight is under serious threat, such as during a hijack. The SOP will determine the number of air-marshals and their weapons only after the government decides to allow the arrangement. The armed personnel will have authority to shoot at sight if any hijacker is found inside the plane.

Currently Indian security personnel check passengers of Indian Airlines at the ladder while entering the plane at TIA. Not satisfied with the existing arrangements, the Indians have demanded that an air-marshal be allowed inside the plane during flights.

The Indian government has been pressing for such a facility ever since an Indian Airlines flight, IC 814, from Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) in Kathmandu to New Delhi was hijacked on 24 December 1999.

Since then Nepal has beefed up security at the airports, especially in Kathmandu,  and one can see no difference between security measures applied at TIA, Kathmandu and Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi.

Meanwhile, Nepal put security at its lone international airport Saturday (January 23) on high alert after India increased security at its domestic terminals. “We have put security (at Tribhuvan International Airport) on high alert with a view to possible hijack attempts,” said Keshav Raj Khanal, Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, according to news agency AFP. “We will deploy more security forces and beef up our vigilance at the Tribhuvan airport,” Khanal told AFP.

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