New Delhi: Rumblings in Nepal about the boundary with India have now resulted in a full scale eruption since India inaugurated a new road in Uttarakhand which leads to territory that is claimed by Kathmandu, near the border with China.
On Friday, defence minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated by video conference the road between Dharchula to Lipulekh, which will reduce the length of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra by several days.
Delighted to inaugurate the Link Road to Mansarovar Yatra today. The BRO achieved road connectivity from Dharchula to Lipulekh (China Border) known as Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra Route. Also flagged off a convoy of vehicles from Pithoragarh to Gunji through video conferencing. pic.twitter.com/S8yNeansJW
— Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) May 8, 2020
Nepal opposition leaders immediately raised the pitch, asking for the government to clear its public stance.
A day later, Nepal foreign ministry expressed “regret” at India’s “unilateral act” and called upon India to refrain from carrying out any activity on Nepalese territory.
In a lengthy statement, Nepal foreign ministry reminded that Nepal claims all territories east of Mahakali river, “including Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipu Lekh” as per the 1816 Sugauli Treaty.
“This was reiterated by the Government of Nepal several times in the past and most recently through a diplomatic note addressed to the Government of India dated 20 November 2019 in response to the new political map issued by the latter,” it said.
The context of the last diplomatic note is that months ago, India had issued a new political map to show the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two new Union Territories. In it, it depicted Kalapani as part of Indian territory, which led to a strong objection from Nepal.
It further pointed out that when India and China had agreed to include Lipu Lekh pass as a bilateral trade route in a May 2015 joint statement, Nepal had issued separate diplomatic protest notes to the two Asian giants for not obtaining Kathmandu’s consent.
On the latest move, Nepal stated:
“This unilateral act runs against the understanding reached between the two countries including at the level of Prime Ministers that a solution to boundary issues would be sought through negotiation”.
Stating that Nepal sought a diplomatic solution in the spirit of friendly relations, the foreign ministry asserted:
“In light of this development, the Government of Nepal calls upon the Government of India to refrain from carrying out any activity inside the territory of Nepal”.
The Kathmandu Post had reported that Nepalese foreign secretary Shankar Das Bairagi spoke with Indian ambassador Vinay Kwatra on Friday.
The statement issued in Kathmandu also reiterated that Nepal had twice proposed dates for holding meeting between the foreign secretaries of the two sides after the Kalapani controversy gathered momentum last year.
Nepal foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali had told visiting Indian journalists in February that if India could solve long-standing and complex boundary disputes with Bangladesh, then it should be able to do so with Nepal.
He had also highlighted that India had still not given a concrete response for a meeting of the two foreign secretaries.
Late evening, India’s Ministry of External Affairs responded that the road section “lies entirely within the territory of India”.
“Under the present project, the same road has been made pliable for the ease and convenience of pilgrims, locals and traders,” said MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava.
He added that both countries have an established mechanism on boundary matters and that the delineation of the boundary was still an “ongoing process”. “India is committed to resolving outstanding boundary issues through diplomatic dialogue and in the spirit of our close and friendly bilateral relations with Nepal,” stated Srivastava.
On the demand for a meeting of foreign secretaries, he said that the meeting will be held “once the dates are finalised between the two sides after the two societies and governments have successfully dealt with the challenge of COVID-19 emergency”.
Indicating its annoyance, the foreign ministry’s statement today also brought up the lack of progress in completing the submission of the report of the Eminent Persons Group on Nepal India relations.
The report had been finalised in mid-2018, but has still not been formally submitted. Both countries had agreed that the report would be made public after the EPG members would hand over the report personally to the two prime ministers. However, the Indian prime minister has not given an appointment to the EPG in the last two years, for the ceremony.
“The Group has concluded its task and prepared a consensus report. The Government of Nepal is ready to receive the report and believes that it will be in the interest of the two countries to implement its recommendations which will also help address the outstanding issues left by the history, thereby paving the way for ever stronger neighbourly relations,” said the Nepalese foreign minister.
While India responded to both the Lipulekh matter and demand for meeting of foreign secretaries, the MEA spokesperson was silent on Nepal raising the issue of the finalisation of the EPG report.