‘Nepal protesting over Lipulekh pass at someone’s behest’: Army chief
In a veiled reference to a possible Chinese role, army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane on Friday asserted that Nepal’s protest against the construction of a border road in Uttarakhand was at the behest of someone else. Indian and Chinese soldiers have scuffled twice along their disputed border in Sikkim and Ladakh this month.
Kathmandu has expressed regret at the inauguration of the road from Dharchula to Lipulekh (the gateway to Kailash-Mansarovar), contending the road “passes through Nepali territory”. Defence minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated the road, constructed by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), through video conferencing on May 8.
“The area east of Kali (Mahakali) river belongs to them (Nepal). The road that we built is on the west of the river. There was no dispute about that. I don’t know what they are agitating about,” Naravane said, during an online talk organised by the Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses.
The army chief pointed out that it was very much a possibility that Nepal raised the issue at someone else’s behest, adding that there had been no such problem previously.
The BRO built the 80-km stretch at an altitude ranging from 6000 feet to 17,060 feet, creating the shortest route for the Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra. Hundreds of pilgrims travel to the 6,638-metre Mount Kailash, located near Mansarovar Lake in the Tibet Autonomous Region, every year believing that circumambulating the holy mountain brings good fortune.
New Delhi has asserted that the region where the road has been built is “completely within the territory of India.” The Nepal government summoned the Indian envoy on May 11 to protest the construction of the road, signalling an escalation of the diplomatic row.
The border row erupted months after Nepal was irked by the depiction of Kalapani as part of Uttarakhand in new Indian maps showing the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Nepal had sought talks to address the Kalapani issue but New Delhi rejected Kathmandu’s protest, saying the new maps accurately depict Indian territory.
Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is perceived to be close to China that played a key behind-the-scenes role in bringing together Communist parties to form the government in Kathmandu.
Of late, there have been tensions between India and China along the along the Line of Actual Contol (LAC). Indian and Chinese border troops first clashed in eastern Ladakh near Pangong Lake on May 5 and then in north Sikkim on May 9. Several soldiers on both sides were injured in these incidents, which marked the first major flare-up along the LAC since the 73-day standoff at Doklam in 2017.
Both the army chief and the external affairs ministry on Thursday pointed out face-offs between border troops along LAC occurred because of differing perceptions of the alignment of boundaries that are not resolved.
There was no official response to the remarks from Nepal’s foreign ministry but people familiar with the developments in Kathmandu said the government was upset by the comments as the Indian army chief also holds the honorary position of the chief of Nepalese Army.