NEW DELHI: Upset with the inclusion of the disputed Kalapani area in India’s updated official map following Jammu and Kashmir’s bifurcation, Nepal is pressing India to have a meeting at the foreign secretary-level to resolve the issue. This is in keeping with an earlier decision by the two countries to resolve boundary disputes through a mechanism at the level of foreign secretaries.
Nepalese envoy Nilamber Acharya met foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale in New Delhi on November 8 where he is learnt to have urged the latter to have an early meeting of the two foreign secretaries.
Three days later, the Nepalese embassy tweeted, saying, “Matters of bilateral relations were discussed, including boundary issue”. The reference was to the contesting territorial claims of India and Nepal over the Kalapani region which lies on the north eastern tip of Uttarakhand, close to the borders of Nepal and Tibet.
Under pressure from the Opposition, Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said on Monday that the government is working on a formal proposal to have bilateral talks with India on the Kalapani dispute. Stating this while meeting leaders of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), Oli also told his party secretariat that evidence to prove Nepal’s claims over Kalapani was being prepared.
The Kalapani dispute has been festering for decades. The bone of contention is land measuring around 35 square kilometres that both neighbours stake claim to. Nepal calls it part of its Darchula district. Kalapani is, at present, part of Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) is stationed there since 1962, the year India fought a war with China. The Nepalese claim India then “occupied” the Kalapani area.
The latest round of controversy began soon after India came out with an updated map following J&K’s reorganisation. In response, the foreign ministry of Nepal issued a statement on November 6 stating: “The Nepal government firmly believes that the Kalapani is a part of Nepal”. The statement further said that the government of Nepal was fully committed towards protecting its international borders and that any unilateral move to alter the border demarcation is not acceptable.
India’s external affairs ministry responded by saying that its map “accurately depicts the sovereign territory of India.” India also maintained that “The new map has in no manner revised our boundary with Nepal. The boundary delineation exercise with Nepal is on-going under the existing mechanism. We reiterate our commitment to find a solution through dialogue in the spirit of our close and friendly relations”.
The Indian statement went on to add: “At the same time, both countries should guard against vested interests trying to create differences between our two countries”. It’s unclear which “vested interests” New Delhi was hinting at. It appears the finger could be pointing at China, a country whose footprints in Nepal have been growing by leaps and bounds. What has also caused concern in New Delhi is the growing Kathmandu-Beijing tango under the stewardship of Nepal’s KP Sharma-led government. The two countries inked 18 pacts during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Nepal last month.
Prime Minister Oli, known for his pro-China stance, is also under domestic pressure to take up the Kalapani issue with New Delhi after the fresh map was issued by India. In recent days, opposition parties in Nepal have held demonstrations over the issue.