After two high-level engagements, Nepal and India look for a boundary meetingThough the meeting of the Boundary Working Group is not mandated to look into the row over Kalapani, officials and experts say its inputs could be valuable for a future meeting at the foreign secretary level.
After two back-to-back high-level engagements between Nepal and India over the past few days, the two neighbours are now looking to hold a meeting of their Boundary Working Group.
Officials familiar with the development say the meeting will be held “very soon” and that it will be significant at a time when the two countries are embroiled in boundary disputes.
Nepal has proposed the meeting either in the last week of August or some time in September, according to two officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Department of Survey.
A response from India is awaited, they said.
The Boundary Working Group is a joint agency constituted by the governments of Nepal and India in 2014 to carry out works in the fields of construction, restoration and repair of boundary pillars including clearance of ‘no-man’s land’ and other technical tasks.
The Group so far has held six meetings.
The last meeting was held in August last year in Dehradun, India.
Even though the Boundary Working Group is not mandated to look into Susta and Kalapani, over which the recent tensions have flared up between Nepal and India, it has been tasked with providing inputs to the mechanism formed at the foreign secretary level.
The foreign secretary level mechanism is tasked with resolving the disputes concerning Susta and Kalapani. However, it has not held any meeting despite both sides expressing willingness for the same.
Experts say engagements between the two countries are always welcome, as such meetings and exchanges help clear confusion and de-escalate tensions.
“The telephonic conversation between the prime ministers of the two countries and the high-level meeting between our foreign secretary and Indian ambassador definitely helped break the ice,” said Madhuraman Acharya, former foreign secretary and ambassador. “We can hope for more bilateral engagements in the coming days.”
No diplomatic dialogue or high-level meetings had been held between Nepal and India until a few days ago since November when New Delhi published a new map placing Kalapani within India’s borders.
Tensions, however, flared up in the first week of May after the Indian defence minister inaugurated a road link via Lipulekh to Kailash Mansarovar in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. In response, Nepal published its own political map depicting Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura within its territories.
Nepali officials said the telephone conversation between Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on August 15 and the virtual meeting between Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi and Indian Ambassador Vinay Mohan Kwatra on August 17 helped set the tone for the Boundary Working Group meeting.
The August 17 meeting was held to review and assess the progress made in India-funded projects in Nepal.
“Both sides are exchanging correspondence to fix the date through diplomatic channels,” Damodar Dhakal, spokesperson for the Department of Survey, told the Post. “This time the meeting should take place in Nepal but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is likely to be a virtual meeting.”
According to Dhakal, since diplomatic issues are dealt with by the Foreign Ministry, the Survey Department will know about the dates once they are fixed.
According to the department, the upcoming meeting will review the work carried out in the last one year and assign the task for the coming years.
At the last and sixth meeting of the Boundary Working Group held in August last year in Dehradun, India, both sides agreed to advance boundary-related works through the use of modern technology, including IBN GNSS (international border navigation /global navigation satellite system) network, continuous operating reference system (CORS), high resolution satellite imagery (HRSI) and UAV/drone survey.
The fifth meeting of the group held in Kathmandu in 2018 had revised the deadline and concluded that it was impossible to clear the boundary work by 2022, a date fixed by the fourth meeting.
Since the flare-up of recent border tensions, both sides have expressed willingness to hold talks and resolve the issues. Nepal’s proposal for a meeting at the foreign secretary level had initially failed to get a response from Delhi. After Nepal objected to the road link via Lipulekh, India stressed talks after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Officials say since the Boundary Working Group is also tasked with providing inputs to the foreign secretary level mechanism that was formed to resolve Susta and Kalapani issues, its meeting in near future holds significance.
Acharya, the former foreign secretary and ambassador, said bilateral ties should not be held hostage to one issue or a minor difference.
“Such continuous engagements help build confidence in bilateral relations. If disputes surface, we should attempt to resolve them amicably,” said Acharya. “If India shows its willingness to accept the report of the Eminent Persons Group on Nepal-India relations, it will also help in building confidence and trust.”