As New Delhi-Kathmandu ties gather momentum again, Nepal is hopeful and confident that the report of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) comprising experts from both countries will be implemented once it has been submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India’s northern neighbour, as the current SAARC chair, is also optimistic that the regional bloc, stalled since 2016, will move forward.
Sharing his optimism on forward movement in both these areas was Nepalese foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali while speaking to a group of journalists and strategic experts here on Friday.
Asked why the EPG had not been able to submit its report to PM Modi, Gyawali said due to the PM’s busy schedule, no time has been fixed. At the same time, he hoped the report would be submitted in the near future.
The EPG comprising eight members, four each from Nepal and India, has been waiting to submit its report to PM Modi for several months. It completed its work of examining bilateral treaties and agreements that need to be revised in June 2018.
Among the treaties whose amendment Nepal is seeking is the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two sides in view of the changed global and regional realities and the fact that Kathmandu considers this pact unequal.
Regarding the stalled SAARC process—it came to a halt after an India-led boycott of the 2016 summit which was to be held in Islamabad—the Nepalese leader said “we’re waiting optimistically for the process to move forward”.
Stating that “as current SAARC chair Nepal is in favour of broader engagement”, the minister conceded that there are problems and there was no alternative but to sit together and “mitigate differences”.
Calling for collective efforts to deal with problems in the context of SAARC, the minister remarked: “If U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim can meet, why not other countries?”
Gyawali who had a meeting with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj on Thursday said “there is a new level of trust to move together and address issues of regional concern.” Asked about the trust deficit issues, the minister said: “History has left a lot of legacy and problems. There are long pending issues that cannot be solved overnight.”
Referring to pending projects, the foreign minister drew attention to the Pancheshwar mega dam project which has been in the pipeline for over two decades now. “We’re still discussing the DPR (detailed project report)… that’s the reality. But we have commitment and all these issues have to be settled.”
As for fears being expressed in Nepal about India dragging its feet on the EPG report, Gyawali said it was the outcome of an initiative by both the PMs and “we’re fully confident that it will be submitted and implemented”. Stressing that there is “strong commitment at the political level,” the foreign minister said “the report was finalised unanimously and there is no misunderstanding”. He added, “there are no reservations, concerns or dissent”.
The minister also stressed the need to improve regional and connectivity not just through road and rail networks and waterways but also through grid connectivity. He also said Nepalese PM KP Sharma Oli during his visit to New Delhi had proposed energy banks which would allow the two neighbours to meet each other’s peak demand for electricity when faced with a shortfall. The two sides have agreed on this proposal in principle and the modalities now need to be worked out, he said.