This is a guest post by Akhilesh Upadhyay
The gruesome murder on Sunday of media entrepreneur Jamim Shah, 47, has brought back chilling memories of June 29, 1998. On that day, Mirza Dilshad Beg, a sitting lawmaker, was gunned down outside his home in Siphal, Kathmandu. It was a dark night and the hillside neighbourhood looked darker still due to load-shedding, when we (reporters and photographers from Kantipur and The Kathmandu Post) arrived at the scene, soon after the 9.30 hit-and-run incident.
The newsroom had received a tip-off from a local who had heard what he suspected were gun-shots. It was an innocent world in many ways. Nepalis were still unfamiliar with sounds of bombs and gun-shots, the Maoist-waged “people’s war” was still in its infancy, violent deaths still shook everybody, and political assassination was unheard of. But what shocked the Nepalis most was how ugly games from powerful external forces could play out in Nepal, as it watched haplessly. The incident also gave many of us in the newsroom a first-hand lesson on forces which operate from behind the scene. Two of the theories that made the rounds then clearly pointed at the cross-border nature of the operation; the third one was that Beg’s death had to do with “family problems,” which turned out to be false.
Of the first two, one was that Beg had a fallout with the underworld don Dawood Ibrahim (who is reportedly based in Karachi now) and the second was that Beg had been “eliminated” in a covert operation by an Indian agency for his allegedly shady links with the rival Pakistani intelligence. In a 2005 interview with Tehelka magazine, Chhota Rajan, Dawood’s once-lynchpin in India (the two later had a serious fallout) claimed to have killed Beg “in India’s interests.”Twelve years after Beg’s death, both the theories once again look eerily familiar. Many aren’t ruling out Shah’s alleged fallout with his present and past underworld bosses and colleagues. Media reports, including in Nepal, have claimed in the past that Shah had links with Dawood and that he could also have been involved in a turf war with a new fake currency racket. “But he did maintain a very low profile lately,” said a source. Many others, like with Beg’s death in 1998, point at the possible involvement of an Indian agency. A frustrated New Delhi, according to this theory, has at various bilateral forums with Nepali officials repeatedly raised its concerns about the perils of the porous border and that Nepali officials have failed to address its national security concerns. Nepal has become a major conduit for the flow of fake Indian notes which come from Pakistan, according to Indian officials. The timing of Shah’s death on Sunday—not least the nature of his killing—is noteworthy. On Oct. 2, Majid Manihar was shot dead in Nepalgunj; his death still remains a mystery. On Dec. 25, Saukhat Beg was killed in Butwal by an Indian national, according to Nepal police. On Jan. 1, Yunus Ansari was arrested in Kathmandu for his alleged involvement in a fake currency racket.
Like Beg 12 years ago, all three have a few things in common. All are believed by the Indian establishment to have cultivated close links with the Pakistani intelligence and all are said to have worked against Indian national interests.
As much as the timing, it’s the nature of the killing that’s noteworthy: In broad daylight in Lazimpat, which is considered one of the safest neighbourhoods in the Capital — just outside the French Embassy, three other embassies are only at a stone’s throw (Indian, British and Japanese) and a five-star hotel is just round the corner. “It is no secret that the Indian establishment has been a little frustrated with our perceived inaction to take quick and decisive measures against individuals it has put on its scanner for a while,” said a senior police official with both operational and investigative experience on cross-border issues. “It is a statement from New Delhi that it will not let off anyone it perceives as hostile to its national interests.” That is, if New Delhi’s hand is established.
(This piece was first published in The Kathmandu Post)