Nepal makes its position clear on Lipulekh with a diplomatic note to IndiaForeign Ministry hands over the diplomatic note to Indian envoy and seeks talks with Delhi to resolve boundary issues at the earliest possible date.
India’s opening of a road link via Lipulekh last week has set in motion a flurry of actions, and in the latest, Nepal on Monday handed over a diplomatic note to Indian Ambassador Vinay Mohan Kwatra.
This follows a press statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday, objecting to India’s inauguration of the road via Lipulekh, a territory that Nepal claims as its own, and a counter-statement by India’s Ministry of External Affairs, claiming “the road follows the pre-existing route used by the pilgrims of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra.”
The KP Sharma Oli government has come under immense pressure for its inaction, with critics even calling the opening of the road link by India as a move of aggression prompted by Nepal’s failure to sort the Kalapani issue with New Delhi.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali handed over the diplomatic note to Ambassador Kwatra on Monday at his office, while expressing displeasure over the construction of the road link via Lipulekh.
“Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali conveyed the government of Nepal's position on boundary issues to Ambassador of India to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra at a meeting held at the Foreign Ministry today and handed over a diplomatic note in this regard,” read a short note issued by the ministry.
Similarly, the Nepali embassy in New Delhi also submitted a copy of the note to India’s Ministry of External Affairs.
The diplomatic note that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs handed over to India on Monday was in the form of a third person note verbale, which in diplomatic correspondence means more formal than an aide-mémoire and less formal than a note. It is drafted in third person and is never signed, according to officials familiar with the technicalities.
The third person note is written by one institution to another.
Two Nepali officials familiar with the content, however, told the Post that what the foreign minister handed to the Indian ambassador is more a position paper from Nepal on the disputed territory.
According to a senior Foreign Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Nepal in its diplomatic note has highlighted the positive aspects of Nepal-India ties.
“While stating that Nepal gives special importance to its relations with India, Nepal through the note has expressed its displeasure over incidents happening at unpredictable levels after the issuance of the political map by India in November,” said the official.
The note, according to the official, gives the historical context of the dispute starting from the Sugauli Treaty. “The note states that Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura belong to Nepal,” said the official. “It urges India to stop unilateral construction of the road.”
The ministry has also called for talks to resolve the boundary issues with India at the earliest date possible.
Madhuraman Acharya, a former foreign secretary, said that with the lodging of the protest, Nepal now has evidence against the unilateral action taken by India. “The correspondence in the form of note verbale is fine,” said Acharya.
Acharya was among the first persons on Saturday to point out that Nepal should do more than a press statement and issue a diplomatic note.
“The press release is good! Now expecting a strong diplomatic note with similar tone, together with diplomatic demarches both in Kathmandu and New Delhi!” Acharya tweeted on Saturday after the ministry issued the press statement.
“Lodging the protest in Kathmandu and New Delhi simultaneously means we have at least built up a case,” Acharya told the Post on Monday. “It acts as a piece of evidence now. Our officials did not wait for 20 days this time like they had back in November.”
India’s inclusion of Kalapani within its territory on a new political map published on November 2 last year had created an uproar in Nepal. The Foreign Ministry, however, scrambled for about three weeks before issuing a diplomatic note.
“Now both sides have to create a favourable environment for talks so India should stop unilateral actions,” said Acharya. “In Kathmandu also, over-politicisation of the issue should be stopped.”
Lipulekh, along with Kalapani and Limpiyadhura, has been in contention for long, but Nepal for the first time had taken issue with both India and China in May 2015 when the countries agreed to open and expand a trade route via the Lipulekh pass.
Lipulekh is a strip of land on the northwestern edge of Nepal, lodged between Nepal, India and China’s Tibet.
India’s move of opening the road link via Lipulekh has already sparked protests in Nepal. Police on Monday arrested over a hundred protesters from various parts of Kathmandu.
Leaders from both the ruling and opposition parties too have been criticising the government for not being able to raise the boundary issue with India and have termed it a failure on the diplomatic front. On Sunday, lawmakers raised the issue in Parliament.
The International Relations Committee of Parliament summoned Foreign Minister Gyawali on Sunday and Monday to discuss the issue.
On Monday morning, Gyawali told the House committee that Nepal wants boundary talks with India at the earliest possible date. He also said that Nepal will hold talks with China after sorting the issue out with India.
Hours later, the Foreign Ministry handed over the diplomatic note to Kwatra.
The Embassy of India in Kathmandu said on Monday evening that Ambassador Kwatra called on Foreign Minister Gyawali earlier in the day.
“Amb. of India to Nepal Sh. Kwatra met Hon'ble Min. for Foreign Affairs Mr. Pradeep Kumar Gyawali today at Singha Durbar. Amb. Kwatra stated India's position on boundary issues with Nepal [SIC],” the embassy tweeted. “He also handed over a copy of MEA spokesperson's response to the Hon'ble Min. [Gyawali].”
Hours after Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement, objecting to India’s move of opening the road link via Lipulekh and reiterating that the government of Nepal twice proposed dates, after the Kalapani issue in November, for a meeting of the foreign secretaries of the two countries, India issued its own statement.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in the statement that “both sides are also in the process of scheduling Foreign Secretary level talks which will be held once the dates are finalised between the two sides after the two societies and governments have successfully dealt with the challenge of Covid-19 emergency.”
Nepal, however, is now pushing for an earlier date for talks.
At the House committee meeting on Monday morning, Foreign Minister Gyawali said that Nepal cannot wait for the Covid-19 crisis to be over to hold talks with India.
“We are ready for talks at any level with India–at the prime minister level or foreign secretary level,” Gyawali told the International Relations Committee.
Gyawali also said that Nepal will hold talks with China after India.
“Nepal, India and China are yet to ascertain the tri-junction in Lipulekh,” Gyawali told the committee. “So after talks with India, we will hold talks with China as well.”