Saturday, 29 January, 2022
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OPINION

Diplomacy At The Highest Level



Hira Bahadur Thapa

 

The recent release of India's political map, incorporating Nepal’s territories of Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulek in Darchula district in northwest Nepal, has unsurprisingly created resentment among Nepalis. This has been vented through protests by different student organisations and members of civil society in various parts of the country. No wonder that federal parliamentarians are too concerned about the issue and accordingly called for urgent discussions on the issue of territorial encroachment. The parliamentary committees held their meetings and have suggested suitable measures in this regard.
Induced by this unprecedented action of a friendly neighbour, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli convened an all-party meeting attended by their leaders, former foreign ministers, experts, among others, to consult as to how to deal with border problem in a manner that befits our cordial and deepened bilateral relations. As reported in national dailies, the Prime Minister has been advised to take up the matter with India diplomatically at the highest level considering the significance and urgency of the subject.
Nepal-India relations transcend for centuries, including the British period. No Nepali wants to see our bilateral relations marred by any incident of demonstration, in which some agitating students have been seen burning the flags of the Indian prime minister, which hardly creates congenial atmosphere for fruitful talks. The strongest evidence of Kalapani being a disputed area is that Nepal-India border map has yet to finalise, despite years of border related work through two countries' technical teams.
The Indian government itself is a testimony to this. It once asked Nepal to sign a strip map showing two countries' border except Kalapani and Susta, the two contested territories. But Nepal has flatly refused to do so because such signature could undermine our stand on those areas. India's request was conveyed to us during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first visit to Nepal in 2014.
Nepal possesses irrefutable proof to substantiate her claim of Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiyadhura. Notwithstanding this, our diplomatic efforts aren't enough in convincing our neighbours about this fact. The 2015 China-India understanding to expand their bilateral trade through the Lipulek border point without consulting Nepal is also a violation of the international norm. Nepal is one the three countries with contiguous border. The lack of timely intervention with both neighbours on this issue has been to our disadvantage. Despite this, Nepal has to assert her territories of Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulek through effective diplomacy.
The State System and Good Governance Committee of the Federal Parliament held its meeting on November 11 inviting government ministers, including the Home Minister and Land Reforms Minister. Following extensive discussions, the committee has instructed the government to take up the issue of border encroachment with India seriously. Moreover, it has directed the government to prepare Nepal's political map showing Limpiyadhura, the origin of the Mahakali River, the border between Nepal and India. Additionally, the committee instructed the government to include such a revised map in the school textbooks so that our future generations remain well-informed of the geography as well as the correct demarcation of Nepal-India border in the west.
The border encroachment issue needs to be resolved once and for all as this is the most opportune time for us as all political parties have stood united in asserting Nepal's sovereign rights over her territories. The whole nation is behind the Prime Minister and is willing to support his firm stand on the nation’s sovereign rights. Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Kumar Gyawali has informed the International Relations Committee of the parliament that Nepali envoy to India has taken up the issue with the Indian foreign secretary. But the Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson's statement that India's new map is not revised and does not include any territory other than India's is unacceptable. However, his reiteration that India is prepared to sit for dialogue with a view to resolving the border dispute amicably has encouraging connotation.
Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulek are undisputedly Nepal's territories. The 1816 Treaty of Sugauli signed between British India and Nepal testifies this. Based on this and other supporting historical documents Nepal's foreign ministry has clarified our position on this after controversy arose with India's attempt to claim our land through revised map.
The most convincing evidence to back our assertion of our sovereignty over Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulek is that the Mahakali River and not the Kali River as stated by India is the border demarcation line between Nepal and India in the west. The Mahakali River originates from Limpiyadhura, which is Nepal's territory. Article 5 of the Sugouli Treaty clearly mentions that all land territories to the east of the Mahakali River belong to Nepal.
In the international context, if any dispute arises about the river to be considered as a border demarcating line, then it is the size of that river, which prevails. Such size is determined by the catchment area, length and the volume of water flowing in the river. Viewed against such criteria Mahakali and not Kali as pointed by India is the river that deserves the recognition on the basis of the above-mentioned characteristics. The Kali River is a stream and it is not originating from Limpiyadhura and therefore, there is no logic on the contention of India that the Kali River is the border demarcation line between Nepal and India.
India has recognised the Mahakali River as the border river. It has been proved in the 1996 Mahakali Treaty signed between Nepal and India. Existing bilateral treaty remains as a strong proof for backing Nepal's stand on this. The national census taken in the disputed villages is a further credible evidence to establish Nepal's sovereignty over them. Moreover, Nepal should prepare well for negotiations collecting all evidences supportive of her claim.
Undeniably, Prime Minister Oli should pursue diplomacy with his Indian counterpart to settle this dispute permanently to defend our sovereignty.

(Thapa was Foreign Relations Advisor to the Prime Minister from 2008 to 2009. He writes on contemporary national and international issues. He can be reached at thapahira17@gmail.com)