At bilateral meet with India, Nepal’s foreign minister Gyawali raises border row
- Nepal is looking to India to provide vaccines as grant assistance for the first phase of its vaccination programme, which requires 12 million doses to cover 20% of its population. Nepal also plans to buy millions of doses from foreign suppliers, including SII and Bharat Biotech.
Nepal on Friday requested the early provision of Covid-19 vaccines by India even as Nepalese foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali raised an ongoing border row during a one-on-one meeting with his counterpart S Jaishankar to push for an early resolution.
Gyawali, in India with a delegation that includes Nepal’s foreign and health secretaries, co-chaired a meeting of the bilateral joint commission with Jaishankar and reviewed all aspects of cooperation, ranging from connectivity and trade to water resources and border management.
Both sides have worked closely to combat the pandemic, and the Nepalese side lauded India on its success in the production of Covishield and Covaxin vaccines and “requested for early provision of vaccines to Nepal”, the external affairs ministry said.
Nepal is looking to India to provide vaccines as grant assistance for the first phase of its vaccination programme, which requires 12 million doses to cover 20% of its population. Nepal also plans to buy millions of doses from foreign suppliers, including Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that decisions on exports will be made after meeting the needs of India’s vaccination programme, to be rolled out on January 16. After assessing domestic production and delivery, preference will be given to supplying doses to friendly countries in the immediate neighbourhood, including Nepal, the people said.
During his one-on-one meeting with Jaishankar, Gyawali raised the border row that took ties to a low last year, people familiar with the discussions said. Gyawali pressed for speedy steps, including meetings of bilateral mechanisms that handle the boundary issue, to facilitate a resolution.
There was no official word from both sides on these discussions, though Gyawali referred to the border issue during a speech at the Indian Council of World Affairs. He said both sides have shown wisdom by continuing overall engagements despite differences on this issue. “We are also mindful that we should not let any outstanding issue...become [an] irritant in an otherwise friendly relationship,” he said.
Gyawali sought steps to address the two remaining disputed sections of the 1,800-km border at Kalapani and Susta. “Building and nurturing trust is absolutely essential for the health and harmony of the relations. In this spirit, we desire to start the conversation with a view to resolving the question of boundary alignment in the remaining segments,” he said.
“Finding an agreeable boundary alignment in these segments may not only take us to the stage of fully settled international boundary but may also help generate positive vibe in public sentiment as well as help instil greater degree of trust and confidence in bilateral relations.”
The row erupted after Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli issued a new political map that included Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh, which are part of Indian territory. The map was published in response to India’s opening of a strategic road to Lipulekh, located on the border with China.
Recent visits to Nepal by spy chief Samant Goel, Indian Army chief Gen MM Naravane and foreign secretary Harsh Shringla helped bring ties to an even keel.
In an apparent nod to concerns in India about perceived Chinese meddling in Nepal’s politics, Gyawali said his country pursues an “independent foreign policy and our conduct of external relations is based on a balanced outlook”. He added, “We do not harbour ill-will against anyone...Guided by the same principles, we seek to foster relations with neighbours and all friendly countries...”
Gyawali raised the “alarmingly high trade imbalance” with India and said Nepal had proposed measures to expand its export base. He highlighted the need to revise the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 on the basis of recommendations of the Eminent Persons’ Group created in 2016.
The two sides also discussed steps to expedite work on joint hydropower projects, including the proposed Pancheshwar multipurpose project.
Former ambassador Vishnu Prakash said India needs to stick to its current approach of not allowing irritants to affect the overall relationship. Referring to turmoil caused by Oli’s recent dissolution of Parliament, Prakash said: “We handled it well with our hands-off approach, and we should play to our strengths instead of trying to out-do China.”
He added: “This relationship is difficult and sensitive and no political party in Nepal is above playing the China card. Things will get smoother so long as we are not seen to be interfering in their internal politics. As for vaccines, there is a lot of history and proximity in this relationship and I’m sure India will take care of Nepal’s needs.”
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