By Dr Simi Mehta, Ritika Gupta and Anshula Mehta, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)
Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, and International Development Institute (IDI), Washington, DC, organised a panel discussion and International Webinar on The Way Forward in the India-Nepal Border Dispute.
The current dispute over the Lipulekh-Limpiyadhura and Kalapani area road construction of 80 km was the main topic to discuss.
Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, IMPRI, New Delhi initiated the session by highlighting the historical diplomatic ties between India and Nepal which were cemented on June 17, 1947, in the presence of high-level officials from both the countries with the commitment of peaceful existence and sovereign equality and understanding of each other aspirations.
There was a sudden jolt to the bonhomie when current Ministry of Defence virtually inaugurated the 80 km long road in the Himalayas at the Lipulekh pass at Dharchula, Uttarakhand. This was countered by Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli government claiming that road passes through Nepalese Territory and accused India of changing status quo without diplomatic consultations. They responded by making constitutional amendment in the administrative and political map of the country showing that Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani is part of Nepal. India protested this.
This new road is the shortest route from New Delhi to Tibetan Plateau and it is an important trade route and passage for thousands of pilgrims to visit the holy place of Kailash Mansarovar. Therefore, no doubt it is in the interests of both the countries. Various questions were posed to the panellists including the ways towards potential resolution of the issues given the importance of the long history of friendly relations between the two countries, especially in the people-to-people ties; Further, the panellists also were asked of their opinion on the fact that it appears that both sides in the dispute feel that the other side has acted to trigger the escalation of the dispute.
Dr Minendra P. Rijal, Member of Parliament, Republic of Nepal made his very brief remarks with evidence and thoughts on the issue. He noted that 97% of the disputes with India have been resolved successfully and in satisfaction. Still, some differences remain. He opined that India-Nepal is having very friendly relations. He stated that both sides will have to sit and resolved the issue in a diplomatic way once the Coronavirus pandemic fades away.
He also said that both nations have to talk and educate their citizens about the relations between the countries and need to clarify with the media about the issue. Dr Rijal said Nepal is ready to sit and resolve the dispute as soon as possible. While answering the question he stated that this issue will not lead to a situation wherein India would blockade bulk commodities exports to Nepal, and should that happen, it would be a huge disappointment. He requested the Indian media and the people to respect Honourable Prime Minister Mr KP Sharma Oli.
Mr Ajay Pradhan, Senior Policy Advisor – Treaty Negotiations on Comprehensive Land Claims, Government of Canada took part in the webinar as an individual of Nepal and not behalf of the Canada Government. He said both countries have very strong cultural, religious linguistic relation with each other. He noted that political leaders of each country extended moral support to political issues and in the independence movement of India. He told to look at this issue as an opportunity to sit and tie relations with others.
He said first step to resolve is to honestly acknowledge and accept that it is disputed. Secondly, present evidence and start the negation process. He stated that Nepal should be respective to concerns of India behind road construction which are 1. Strategic Security 2. Religious and Cultural pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar 3. Trade and Transit to China and Tibet through Lipulekh Pass. He claimed that Nepal was never consulted by India for names of rivers from Limpiyadhura to Lipulekh. He also stated Kali river is not an issue but which river is Kali is the main concern for both states. He reminded of Treaty of Sugauli.
Ambassador Rakesh Sood, Former Ambassador of India to Nepal (2008-11) pronounced the norms of Treaty of Sugauli. He also observed that none of the maps of India or Nepal covered the disputed land that is a concern now. He also discussed the Kalapani issue that told it was different from this as this issue is more formed due to Constitution Amendments of Nepal and the other was due to diplomatic threads of Britishers and East India Company.
He pointed out that at no point in time over the last ten-years of construction of the road did Nepal raise a concern, and it was only after the inauguration on May 8, 2020, that it expressed its views. He claimed that now the official level of talks is pointless and only at the political level can one expect a resolution of the issue. He also provided evidence from dated back to September 5, 1817, about the disputed territory as part of India’s. He explicitly mentioned that a worsening of this border dispute would be a lasting legacy of the Oli government in creating insurmountable problems for India-Nepal relations.
Major General (Dr) P.K. Chakravorty, VSM (Retd), Strategic Thinker on Security Issues stated that dealing with border disputes is not new for India, and India has resolved the issues with Bangladesh, Myanmar very successfully. He quoted that it is a relation of blood between two countries and we had the best of time and relations with Nepal. He noted that we require political guidance.
He also assured that India is not a big brother but we are equals and we respect all of the citizens of Nepal. He also stated that some issues need to be resolve by international norms. He eagerly asked for people to people contact in both countries. He also stated that as a secular nation, the exchange is required in terms of culture, religion and youth.
The event was co-moderated by Dr Ambika P. Adhikari, Principal Planner, City of Tempe, Arizona, USA. Dr Arjun Kumar, Director, IMPRI has given a vote of thanks to every panellist and attendees concluded the webinar with immense pleasure.