India has been occupying about 410 km square km stretch of land in Nepal’s Kalapani region since early Sixties. This territory includes Limpiyadhura and Lipulek, the strategic border points with China. India unilaterally published a map including the region within its territory in November 2019. Nepal protested the move and sent a diplomatic note to India but it exhibited indifference to the note and inaugurated a road to Lipulek through Nepali land in May this year. Nepal termed the act a serious violation of international law and sent another diplomatic note. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also not accepted the report of the Eminent Persons’ Group – a bilateral mechanism formed to review the relations between the two countries and offer suggestions to redefine it. Nepal has issued its updated map including the Mahakali river originating from Limpiyadhura as her farthest north-western border which has been ratified by the Parliament. In this backdrop, Gopal Khanal, Bhimsen Thapaliya and Modnath Dhakal of The Rising Nepal talked with the Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Kumar Gyawali at the Ministry. Excerpts:
The updated map of the country is endorsed by the Parliament and authenticated by the President. Nepal has clarified its official stand on Kalapani region. What is the government’s plan to get back the territory ?
Nepal-India bilateral relation has multiple dimensions and we should not let any issue jeopardise the age old relationship. India is a good neighbour with whom we have mutual understanding and we are friends in need. Nepal wants to further the relations with the same spirit. Border issue between the two countries is a liability which was left historically unresolved. Therefore, the political leaders of both the countries have the historic responsibility to solve the issues for good.
We always believe the bilateral problems including the current border issue can be resolved through the dialogues based on trust. This is an opportunity to redefine the relations between the two neighbours as per the demands of the 21st century. I think if the issues were raised concretely, it wouldn’t have come this far. Some modalities and strategies were conceived and talked about in the past but there were no sincere efforts to follow them up.
Nepal has now clarified its position about the border and the whole country is unified in this issue. India must understand this common voice and campaign and open the gates of dialogue which has remained shut for a long time. If we sit for dialogue in good faith, the two countries can resolve the problem amicably since more complex issues were resolved through dialogues in the past. We are awaiting a meaningful response from India.
Nepal had urged India for the meeting of the bilateral mechanism since unilaterally published its map including Nepal’s land in its territory. Nepal has continuously urging India to sit for the talks but India is showing indifference. In such a scenario, what would be Nepal’s strategy – wait further, keep pressing India for the meeting of bilateral mechanism or anything else?
Nepal sent formal notes to India in November and December last year and May this year. But there has been no reply, we are still awaiting it. I would like to reiterate that only the way to resolve the issue is through dialogue. Nepal is waiting India’s response to develop further strategy.
The government formed a committee to gather evidence on border issues after issuing the new map. There is criticism that the government had published the map without first having enough evidences. There is also a criticism that the committee was not inclusive.
The responsibility of the committee is clear – to collect evidences. It will collect the evidences scattered in various institutions and locations and compile them in organised way. Our treaty documents, maps and written records are deposited in various locations such as Ministry of Law, the National Archives, the Ministry of Land Management, the Department of Survey and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So, there is a need to collect the required documents to be produced for the dialogue. This committee reviews the available documents and literature and submits it to the government.
So far as the matter of some personalities not included in the committee is concerned, I would like to say that the country has come to this historical juncture due to the contribution of the experts, professionals and common people, the government is just their representative. It does not mean that there are no experts other than those in the committee, we will take their inputs when required. The committee cannot be too large.
There is a controversial theory raised occasionally, King Mahendra had signed an agreement with India in 1965 which permitted activities like installing security posts and building road in Nepali territory. Would the committee try to search for such documents ?
The whole nation is united on the Kalapani issue and we must not take a way to critise one another. There were shotcomings in the past. The way the cartographic alterations were made and borders were changed and Indian security made presences in the territory which did not belong to it and tried to sever the administrative and political connections of Nepal to people in those areas. It should be seriously assessed. But what we must not forget is that international border is always fixed as per the formal border treaties between the nations. It cannot be changed. The treaties that define Nepal-India border is the Sugauli Treaty of 1816, its supplementary treaty made in December the same year, 1860 Naya Muluk Treaty and 1875 supplementary treaty.
Some Indian ex-bureaucrats, political leaders and experts have appealed their government to hold immediate dialogue with Nepal. What do you say about it ?
We have taken such views positively. We have people-level relations. There is a quite good and impressive development cooperation between the two countries and we must not let it be hostile due to other challenges. But there should be conscious efforts to not to let irritants prevail over the historical and cultural relations. This should be addressed immediately. While the Eminent Persons Group was formed in 2016, its ToR includes that the group would submit recommendations to develop relations between the two countries as per the need of the 21st century. And we want precisely the same – redefinition of the relations. Both countries want it.
Some Indian experts even went on to say that Nepal’s dissatisfaction was also the result of delay in the projects supported by the southern neighbor.
There has been outstanding achievements in some projects-- the cross-border pipeline was completed in just half of the estimated time which contributed for better environment, less time and money. India has supported in developing two Integrated Check Posts and building some more. Rail link project is underway while Postal Highway and post-quake reconstruction have also witnessed good progress. Pancheshwor and Upper Karnali are in limbo but it’s not good to generalise. We take the economic cooperation and partnership with India very positively.
How long does it take to collect the evidences on the border issue? Are we in a position to sit for a dialogue with sufficient evidences if India is ready for talks early ?
We have published the map after having enough evidences and it has been institutionalised in the constitution as well. I would like to reiterate that the committee was not formed to collect the evidence. We have the historical documents to sit for a dialogue with India. We are well prepared for it.
Along with the diplomatic efforts, it has been heard that the government has tried to hold Prime Minister-level talks with India.
The secretary-level mechanism is a formal bilateral effort formed with the responsibility to address the challenges. But it does not mean that there shouldn’t be any other channel for the talks. We are ready for talks at any level. But there should be mutual understanding for this. The two countries formed the secretary-level mechanism in 2014. Had it been successful to hold meetings immediately after its creation, the 2015 India-China agreement on Lipulek pass and Nepal’s objections wouldn’t have come this far. Therefore, I think that there had been much delay in the meeting of the mechanism. If the talks at a higher level helps to address the problem, Nepal is ready for that as well.
While Nepal is capable to handle its internal and external affairs on its own, Indian side stated initially that Nepal raised the border and map issue on the behest of some other power. However, there has been corrections in such statements recently. How should Nepal understand it ?
Nepal does not make its decision in the interest of any other power. We are independent and sovereign from time immemorial. Nepal always remained an independent nation throughout the history. It is the only country that was never a colony. Therefore, when anyone raises questions on our capability to make independent decisions, we take it seriously. That is an attack on our very being. If anyone looks Nepal through that perspective, it’s the fault of their lenses.
Don’t you think that India is largely indifferent in terms of resolving the border issue with Nepal ?
Lingering a problem will create further challenges so we want an early solution to the border issue. The nations that aim to play a greater and effective role in the international arena should try to immediately address the problems in the region so they can focus on other important issues.
Nepal’s immediate neighbours India and China are at loggerheads at the border in Laddakh. What is Nepal’s stand on it ?
Nepal is a strong advocate of regional peace and stability. We believe that the every problem can be solved peacefully. We are worried to see the events like that of Laddakh. We wish the confrontation to ease and both the countries sit for the talks as the relations between the two large economies affects the entire world. Nepal is hopeful that they will be able to bring down the tensions. We have positively taken the efforts for the talks between them.
There are also views that India does not want to talk with the present government. Such rumours might have come from those who want to see Nepal’s instability. What do you say ?
I don’t think that anyone has anything in mind other than talks to resolve the issue. There are may be some elements want to create confusion and instability in the society. They want to reverse the achievement the country made. Instability might satisfy some for a short time but in the long run, it would be painful for one and all. It is not good for the country and society. The unprecedented national unity that the country witnessed recently has given a strong message about Nepal and its society. All should understand it as it is.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation’s project in Nepal has become a subject of unwanted criticism and controversy. How can this issues be solved ?
The MCC entered into controversy due to two factors: first, such matters should not be the subject of the internal discussion and debate of any political party because in such condition justice cannot be made with such projects. Second, the development project should be analysed through the frame of development, not through politicisation. Both unwanted things happened in terms of MCC, it became the issue of debate of ruling NCP’s internal politics. The discussion might have entered in positive direction if the project was discussed at par with the other large projects with foreign assistance. Some statements regarding the MCC project were hypothetical and exaggerated.
Those who criticised the project, also resorted to such hypothetical statements and believed in exaggerated opinions. A simple online search about the country where MCC is being implemented and country with the presence of US army would have answered most of the concerns. Do the countries that have the presence of US army are receiving the MCC support? Do the countries that obtained the MCC support have allowed the US to bring in its army? You can analyse these facts yourself. See the status of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria that entered into conflict in the last two decades. However, the debate took another course. But I am hopeful that the parliament will make a wise decision regarding the project.
What happens if the Parliament does not endorse the project in this session ?
The date of commencement of the project was set for last September but we requested the USA to postpone it to June this year. Therefore, we have very less time. The parliament is free to make its decision and the political parties are also free to decide on their own but the project taken by the government must move ahead smoothly. I think that the MCC should not be stopped for long.
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