India’s Weakest Security Link: How Nepal Has Become A Hub Of Deception, Terrorism & Cross-Border Spying

OPED By Vaishali Basu Sharma

The legend of the famous female spy ‘Mata Hari’ who allegedly spied for the Germans may be from a different century, but even today, modern-day spies resort to honey traps for espionage. 

Recently a bizarre case involving Pakistani woman Seema Gulam Haider (27), who entered India illegally via Nepal to marry a Greater Noida man, made headlines.

Greater Noida is an extended suburb of India’s capital, New Delhi’s region. Apparently, Seema met Sachin (22), her ‘online’ lover, in 2019 on PUBG-Battlegrounds, and they stayed in contact via Instagram and WhatsApp chat and video calls.

In a daring act, the 27-year-old mother of four had learned the route to India on a YouTube video. Allegedly, she went to Sharjah, Nepal, and took a bus to Greater Noida. Sachin had met her in Nepal, and the two had stayed in a hotel for seven days.

She had then gone back to Pakistan, the police claimed, only to return to Kathmandu on a tourist visa with her four children. The woman was accompanied by her four minor children — three daughters and a son.

The Greater Noida police apprehended her after being alerted by a local lawyer about a Pakistan national residing in the area.

While she has professed that her journey was an act of love, the security agencies are alarmed upon recovering three Aadhaar cards, six passports, a family registration certificate, and a bus ticket (Kathmandu to Delhi), among other things, from Seema.

It had now emerged that Sachin, too, had apprehensions when Seema insisted on roaming around in Delhi for site-seeing, that her brother was in the Pakistan Army and the four children who accompanied her were referring to her as their ‘sister.’

But this is not an isolated incident. There have been scores of cases involving Pakistani spies luring Indians via social media or online gaming and laying out ‘love traps.’

In January this year, another Pakistani girl identified as Iqra Jeevani, a resident of Pakistan’s Sindh province, married 25-year-old security guard Mulayam Singh Yadav from Uttar Pradesh, whom she met through an online app months ago and entered India through the porous India-Nepal border.

After Iqra entered India, the two came to Birganj in Bihar, Patna, and Bengaluru. Their scam came to light when central agencies came across Iqra, who was trying to contact her family in Pakistan, and Indian security agencies suspected that Iqra was part of an espionage ring.

Before that, on August 8, 2022, a Pakistani woman and two others were caught in an attempt to enter India from the Indo-Nepal border in Bihar to meet her lover in Hyderabad, India.

Ahmad, a native of Bahadurpura, a popular locality in Hyderabad, and Khadija Noor, from Faisalabad city in the Punjab province of Pakistan, fell in love during their interactions on social media.

Khadija Noor and her accomplices, Mohammad and Jeevan, were arrested while the trio tried crossing India through the Bihar-Nepal border.

According to the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), Pakistan’s infamous spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has used “Nepal as the staging point for infiltrating Khalistani, Kashmiri, and Pakistani terrorists as well as Afghan and Arab mercenaries into Indian to carry out violent attacks there.”

The Pakistani Embassy in Kathmandu has traditionally had a disproportionately large number of diplomatic officers and support staff, most of whom allegedly represent the ISI. The Pakistani spy agency has exploited the liberal Nepalese visa regime and the open border between Nepal and India.

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Since the 1980s, Pakistani agencies have used the loose immigration controls at Nepal border points to push into India – spies, explosives like RDX and weapons, fake currency, and narcotics.

Aside from connectivity via Dubai, an inordinately high frequency of four commercially impracticable weekly PIA flights operated in this sparsely used sector. The average occupancy is usually as low as just thirty passengers.

Aside from the usual method of using attractive women with made-up Indian names as honey traps for military personnel, it appears that Pakistan’s ISI was found to be using spies posing as NRI grooms to lure Indian women and marry them to get access to Indian secrets.

This was the modus operandi of Pakistani spy Ahsan Ul Haq, who was arrested in 2017 from Jalandhar. Ahsan had an Austrian passport and met Balwinder Kaur, a Sikh woman resident of Mukundpur village, on Facebook.

After marrying his Punjabi bride, he also obtained an Indian Aadhaar card and a PAN card. He had purchased a plot in Alipur village near Jalandhar based on forged documents. He was finally arrested on a tip-off.

Aside from Pakistanis, Chinese spies are known to enter India via the Nepal route. In February, a 26-year-old Chinese national, Wang Goujun, entered India without a valid visa via Nepal and is accused of spying against India. From China, Goujun first visited Thailand, then went to Nepal, where he entered India.

On February 14, 2023, he took a bus to arrive in Delhi, where he visited “many places,” including some “key installations.” He was arrested at the Gaurifanta-Nepal border in Lakhimpur Kheri by Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) on February 17 while returning to Nepal.

Before this case, in October 2022,  Delhi Police apprehended a Chinese woman, Cai Ruo, a native of Hainan province, for staying in India under a false identity and allegedly indulging in spying activities. She was residing in India as a Nepalese citizen named Dolma Lama and claimed to be a Buddhist.

But when interrogated, it was revealed that she could not even speak Nepalese language. Investigating officers in India told news sources that Cai Ruo is a “well-trained and cunning individual who tried to mislead the investigators by claiming that Chinese Communist leaders wanted to kill her and therefore, she fled to India.

She was living in India illegally as a Buddhist monk to evade security agencies’ scanners. She had been spying and hatching conspiracy against the nation. She had been found in possession of fabricated documents, ID cards.”

US cables released by WikiLeaks had in the past revealed that Pakistan-based terrorist outfits and the ISI had made Nepal a hub of anti-India terror activities from where it pushed huge quantities of RDX into the country.

The US cable signed off by none other than the then US Ambassador to India, Frank Wisner stated, “To dispatch men and material and to execute explosions in India, Kathmandu was invariably made the nodal point….”

  • Vaishali Basu Sharma is an analyst of strategic and economic affairs. She has worked as a consultant with India’s National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) for nearly a decade. She is presently associated with the New Delhi-based think tank Policy Perspectives Foundation.
  • The author can be reached at postvaishali (at) gmail (dot) com.