New Delhi’s pressure to allow sky marshals on Indian planes flying out from Kathmandu has put Nepali government agencies in a dilemma. Foreign and Home Ministry officials held consultations with their colleagues in the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoTCA) before Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna’s visit to Nepal in mid-January and Home Minister Bhim Rawal’s India visit last week, according to TKP. As Nepal is a party to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), MoTCA officials say, armed foreign nationals should hand over their weapons to Nepali security when they get off the plane as per Standard Operating Procedures. The Indian side has proposed that Indian air marshals will remain inside the plane at all times. “They will be deployed in plainclothes,” said a senior Nepal government official. “The Home and Foreign ministries have received feedback from the Tourism Ministry that Nepal could allow the air marshals. However, the Ministry of Home should make a call on such a big decision,” said the official.
Currently, Air India passengers are put through a second screening by AI security officers just before they enter the aircraft at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu. This decision was taken by the Maoist-led government last January when Maoist leader Hisila Yami was Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation.
The sudden stubbornness from the Indian side has amazed some Nepal watchers in Delhi. A South Asian strategic analyst who once held top position in India’s intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing said it happened because of differences between Indian ministry of External Affairs and Home ministry. “My understanding is that there are already armed guards posted in all Indian planes flying to Nepal,” said the analyst requesting anonymity as the issue was sensitive.
“They board the plane as regular passengers and other passengers don’t recognize them,” said the analyst, according to today’s Kantipur daily (Nepali report). In fact, the same informal provision should have been continued quietly. And the Home ministry should have conveyed that message to Nepal via ministry of External Affairs.”