India takes big step to normalise Nepal ties, skeds foreign secy visit
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla will travel to Kathmandu later this month for formal dialogue between the two countries, a sign that New Delhi is willing to go an extra mile to improve bilateral ties that had nosedived earlier this year, people familiar with the matter said.
The decision to send the foreign secretary comes days after Army Chief General MM Naravane was conferred the honorary rank of general of Nepali Army. Gen Naravane had met Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on this visit who had underscored that the two countries could resolve all problems between them through dialogue since India and Nepal have a long-standing special relationship.
KP Sharma Oli had faced resistance within his cabinet to Gen Naravane’s visit but had dealt with it, withdrawing the defence portfolio from deputy prime minister Ishwar Pokhrel.
Gen Naravane’s visit was considered crucial, particularly given that he was the first one within the Indian government to react to protests by Nepal’s government over a border road built in Uttarakhand. It was very possible that Nepal had raised the issue at someone else’s behest, he said in May, a remark that was interpreted to imply that Beijing could have prodded Nepal to create a new boundary dispute.
It is not clear if PM Oli directly broached the topic when General Naravane called on him last week. But PM Oli did make his point.
People familiar with the discussions said KP Sharma Oli, who also holds the defence portfolio after shunting out Pokhrel, did make a pointed reference to the fallout of the row over Nepal’s political map, describing it as a “misunderstanding”. At the same time, he did underline that Nepal takes its sovereignty very seriously, a remark that is being seen in New Delhi to explain his decision to issue a fresh political map.
During the two days - November 26 and 27 - that Shringla spends in Kathmandu, he is already scheduled to hold meetings with his counterpart Bharat Raj Paudyal who took charge just last month and foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali. The career diplomat will also meet President Bidhya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister Oli during his visit.
Shringla’s conversations in Nepal are also expected to lead both sides to finalise the schedule for the meeting of the Joint Technical Level Boundary Committee.
Officials stressed that the boundary issue was going to be only one aspect of the visit. “This is not a single-agenda visit,” a senior diplomat said, pointing that the visit could see India committing to help Nepal with coronavirus vaccines once its production starts. Also, the two sides will discuss the revival of the Pancheshwar multi-purpose project on river Mahakali as well as other hydro-electric projects.
India had been holding off on Harsh Shringla’s visit for most of this year to convey New Delhi’s displeasure over the communist government’s move to issue a new political map that included a slice of land including the Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani areas to the west of Nepal. New Delhi had rejected the map, brushing away what it had said was Nepal’s effort at a cartographic expansion.
Nepal had been working at mollifying New Delhi for some time and had withdrawn school textbooks that contained the new political map. Last month, Research and Analysis Wing chief Samant Kumar Goel had done the groundwork for restoring ties during his quiet visit to Nepal.