Delhi discusses all but boundary row in talks with Foreign Minister GyawaliAs hinted, India showed reluctance to get into the issue despite the Nepali side putting the matter on the table.
Nepal and India on Friday held the sixth meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Commission in New Delhi, discussing a variety of bilateral issues, but there was no concrete outcome on the boundary dispute, an issue which was high on the agenda of the Nepali delegation.
Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali and his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar co-chaired the meeting.
According to a statement issued after the meeting by the Embassy of Nepal in New Delhi, both sides discussed the boundary matter and expressed commitment to early completion of boundary works in the remaining segments.
“During informal and formal meetings, the Indian side insisted that the issue be given to the foreign secretary level mechanism first to deal with,” said a member of the Nepali delegation who participated in the meeting. “The Indian side was of the view that the issue then can be followed up by the Boundary Working Group. So no serious discussion took place on the boundary issue.”
Prior to the Joint Commission meeting, Gyawali and Jaishankar had held a restricted meeting for about an hour “to set the tone of the meeting” where Gyawali had raised the boundary issue and early submission of the Eminent Persons Group’s report, among others.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that both sides discussed several areas of cooperation, including in the areas of connectivity, economy and trade, power, oil and gas, water resources, political and security issues, border management, development partnership, tourism, culture, education and capacity building.
The meeting of the Joint Commission in New Delhi is the first highest level bilateral meeting between the two countries in over a year, which saw Nepal-India ties hitting a rock bottom over the boundary row.
India’s publication of a new map including Kalapani within its borders in November 2019 had led to the souring of relations between the two countries. Delhi had ignored Kathmandu’s request for diplomatic dialogue. In May last year, ties further deteriorated after Nepal and India entered a state of cartographic war. In response to India’s opening a road link via Lipulekh to Kailash Mansarovar in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, Nepal got its own map approved by Parliament, depicting Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura as parts of the Nepali territory.
Both the countries claim the areas as their own.
Amid Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s nationalistic rheotric that his government would “bring back the Nepali land”, Gyawali reached New Delhi on Thursday, keeping the boundary issue high on his agenda.
But as soon as Gyawali landed in Delhi on Thursday, India hinted that talks on the boundary issue were unlikely, saying the Joint Commision and boundary talks are separate mechanisms.
“The boundary dispute issue was prominently brought to the table and it was briefly discussed,” said a member of the Nepali delegation who participated in the meeting. “But we could not immediately agree on which mechanism should be entrusted with the task of dealing with the issue.”
According to the Nepali Embassy in Delhi, the meeting also discussed the review of the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 and submission of the report of the Eminent Persons’ Group. The report was finalised in July 2018 but is yet to be received by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, citing his busy schedule. It was agreed upon by both sides that the report of the EPG, which comprised four members each from Nepal and India, would be submitted to the prime ministers of both countries.
“This visit will pave the way for more high-level visits and engagements in the future,” Nepal’s Ambassador to India Nilamber Acharya told the Post. “So Friday’s meeting is a positive development in this respect. Both ministers discussed all issues concerning both countries—from social, economic and energy to other pressing matters that have been left to us by history.”
Later on Friday, Gyawali addressed a function at the Indian Council of World Affairs where he said the boundary row was discussed during the Joint Commission meeting.
“We desire to start the conversation with a view to resolving the question of boundary alignment in the remaining segments. We concluded that both sides want to finalise it at the earliest,” said Gaywali. “Two segments of the border: Susta and Kalapani were not completely demarcated by the technical committee set up in 2007. We have established the Boundary Working Group and a mechanism at the foreign secretary level… this is unfinished work, and there is an urgency in completing those segments.”
Gyawali’s visit to Delhi comes amid political turmoil in Kathmandu caused by Oli’s December 20 decision to dissolve the House. He has called snap elections for April 30 and May 10. But there are uncertainties as the House dissolution move is being heard by the Supreme Court to test its constitutional validity.
Political parties, experts on constitutional affairs and civil society members have called the House dissolution unconstitutional, arguing that the constitution does not allow Oli, a majority prime minister, to dissolve the House.
Gyawali, however, defended the government’s decision.
“To make people sovereign, we decided to take a fresh mandate,” said Gyawali. “This election will be an important opportunity for the people to make their choice and strengthen the foundation of democracy.”
Gyawali is expected to hold meetings with the Indian political leadership before returning home on Saturday. According to sources, during his meetings, Gyawali is likely to apprise the Indian leadership of the recent political developments in Nepal.
However, no details were immediately available regarding Gyawali’s meetings and with whom he was scheduled to meet.
According to the statement by the Nepali Embassy, the Nepali side thanked the Government of India for its assistance of essential medicines and medical equipment.
“The Joint Commission also appreciated the close coordination between the two sides in tackling the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic,” the statement added.
Also high on the agenda of Gyawali’s visit was procurement of Covid-19 vaccines from India. The Nepali side has requested India to provide 12 million vaccines at a subsidised rate as part of its plan to inoculate around six million people in the first phase.
According to sources, India has expressed its commitment to supplying some doses of the vaccine within January. The quantity, however, was not revealed. The sources said that India has also given assurances to prioritise, and ease the supply of, the vaccines that Nepal would procure in the future.
“We are convinced that India will supply the Covid-19 vaccines soon,” Ambassador Acharya told the Post, “and as per our requirements.”