Lucrative scholarships offered to Nepal’s minority community by Turkey have risen and agencies believe this has a strategic objective.
New Delhi: The recent increase in funding in Nepal from the government backed organizations based in Middle-Eastern and Central Asian countries, particularly Turkey, has led Indian security agencies to keep a close track on these developments as any activity in the Himalayan nation has an impact on India. In the last few years, the lucrative scholarship offered to the Nepal’s minority community students by countries like Turkey have increased manifold and Indian intelligence agencies believe that its aim is to radicalize the youths of the minority community, build assets and prop-up anti-India sentiments in the Himalayan kingdom. The involvement of state-sponsored Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) of Turkey is also found in these activities. Other than that, the funding in the name of developmental projects has also increased in the recent past.
An official privy to the developments told The Sunday Guardian that, “Turkey had increased its scholarship and exchange programs in general for Muslim students from the South Asian counties and primarily for Nepali students. Once the students reach there, they are tactically approached by the security agencies and at times by the Pakistani proxies who try to identify assets who after completing the education can go to Nepal and help them. Even in recent times we have cases of the returning students starting businesses through unknown sources of income. The money was certainly provided by these groups. The game is quite large with a strategic objective, asset creation takes years and we believe that something suspicious is happening, therefore, we are keeping a close watch on these developments and identifying some individuals and groups.” In this entire episode, the name of two Turkey based outfits is quite surprising. One is Maarif Foundation and the other is Turkey youth foundation or T.U.G.V.A. It has been alleged that this group had contact with radical Islamic outfits all over the world.
These activities are more in Province No. 1 and Province No. 2 of Nepal, bordering India. Both these provinces of Nepal are also crucial as a majority of Muslim minority population lives in these provinces. The minority community constitutes roughly eight percent of the Himalayan Kingdom’s total population, of which around 95% live in these two provinces. In the last 20 years, many mosques, Islamic centres and madrasas have come up in several places like Rauharat, Mahottari, Parsa and Bara which are closer to the Indian border, with security agencies saying that money from foreign agencies was involved in these activities.
In the recent past, Ankara has been using its “soft power” like scholarships and educational developmental projects to make deep in-roads primarily in Asia and Europe. In 2020, the Turkish government entity named Maarif Foundation was educating 40,000 students in 39 countries. This group is considered an asset of Ankara having close links with the security establishment and is fully funded by the Turkey government. The Foundation is active in 43 countries including Nepal. There are clear allegations against the Maarif Foundation that its narrative is based on the radical Islamist ideas and tries to cultivate assets for Ankara and built goodwill with strategic objective. Other countries of the Middle East like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia had also increased their activities in the Himalayan Kingdom, but as of now, nothing suspicious had been discovered. In 2018, Idealz, a Dubai-based NGO, launched a development project in Nepal to build schools in collaboration with Dubai Cares, in areas having limited access to quality education.