New Delhi: India and Nepal are likely to hold their next joint commission meeting at the level of foreign ministers in October even as Kathmandu is pushing for foreign secretary-level talks on the Kalapani border dispute, ThePrint has learnt.
The last joint commission meeting between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Nepalese counterpart Pradeep Kumar Gyawali was held on 22 August 2019 in Kathmandu.
According to Indian diplomatic sources, the decision to hold the joint commission meeting was discussed when Nepali Prime Minister K.P.S. Oli telephoned Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 15 August.
Discussions are underway between the two sides to finalise a date for the meeting, the sources said.
The talks between the two foreign ministers are supposed to factor in the broader aspects of the bilateral relationship, while discussions on the boundary issue — which has emerged as a major sticking point in the ties — are the mandate of foreign secretaries.
However, the aforementioned sources said, India is not ready to discuss the Kalapani issue yet since Nepal “unilaterally” changed its political map and sought to include around 335 sq km of disputed territory within its boundary.
Border issue persists
Indian Ambassador to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra is currently on a visit home for official-level “consultations”, days after he participated in a 17 August meeting of the ‘Oversight Mechanism’ to assess ongoing bilateral projects.
The two sides are also planning to soon hold a meeting of the Boundary Working Group (BWG), which will entail technical discussions on boundary matters. However, a top official had told ThePrint earlier that the Kalapani issue is likely to be skipped.
According to sources in the Nepal government, Kathmandu is keen on the two foreign secretaries coming together to discuss the border issue. The Nepalese, the sources said, expect that the foreign ministers may finalise the date to hold foreign secretary-level talks during the joint commission meeting.
The Oli government has been pushing for foreign secretary-level talks since last year, but it has already claimed a large part of the territory around the Kalapani region as its own after India inaugurated a new road via the Lipulekh pass to reach Kailash Mansarovar.
Nepal has even amended its Constitution to inculcate the new map into its emblem.
India has rejected the Nepalese claim to Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura, saying that it will not accept such “artificial enlargement” of territory, and that it will discuss the unsettled border issue when the pandemic subsides.