New Delhi: With the Boundary Working Group (BWG) of India and Nepal expected to meet soon, New Delhi said it is ready to discuss all issues of bilateral importance with Kathmandu, except the Kalapani border issue, ThePrint has learnt.
Indian Ambassador to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra is currently visiting New Delhi for “consultations” on issues that entail restoration and repair of boundary pillars in the border areas and discussion on no-man’s land area, sources said.
While these discussions will be given priority and taken up during the BWG meet “soon”, the sources added, bilateral talks on the controversial Kalapani region will not take place as that will happen at the level of foreign secretaries’ meeting.
“There is no question of border talks,” a top official, who did not want to be named, told ThePrint.
India had said it would sit for the border talks once the pandemic subsides. However, Nepal went ahead and issued a new map on 20 May, showing the disputed regions of Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh as part of its own territory, which was rejected by India.
Nepal took this step after India inaugurated a new road to Kailash Mansarovar passing through the Lipulekh region. It had been pushing India for talks on the border issue since last year when New Delhi released its own political map. But India is yet to come up with a date.
The BWG, which takes place under the aegis of Surveyor General of India under the Department of Science and Technology, had earlier set a deadline of 2022 for completing all pending boundary-related work.
The upcoming BWG meet has been proposed by Kathmandu and, the sources said, it was also discussed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart K.P.S. Oli spoke on 15 August.
On 17 August, both India and Nepal held the meeting of the ‘Oversight Mechanism’ that took stock of the India-funded developmental projects there. The meeting was held in Kathmandu between Kwatra and Nepal Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi.
The meeting of the ‘Oversight Mechanism’ took place after a gap of a year whereas it is supposed to meet in every two-three months.
Also read: Kathmandu crossed red lines. India-Nepal relations are entering a deep freeze
Modi-Oli phone call paved the way for more talks
The long phone conversation between both the prime ministers on 15 August “paved the way” for all these technical-level meetings that are taking place now one after the other despite recent tiff between the neighbours, according to the sources.
During the call, both sides discussed bilateral issues and cooperation with each other on Covid-19. This was the first time the two leaders spoke officially after Nepal released the controversial political map.
Apart from the pandemic, the sources said, PM Oli was also facing severe political instabilities domestically to the extent that at one point it seemed the ruling Nepal Communist Party would split into two factions.
India, meanwhile, viewed Nepal’s map move as Oli’s plan to divert attention from the difficulties he was witnessing domestically as the clamour for his resignation grew louder.
“Now that the ice has broken, we should resume our engagement with Nepal, perhaps taking up the less contentious issues first. We could begin with meetings of the various technical committees and joint working groups, and pave the way for foreign secretary-level talks in due course,” said Ranjit Rae, former Indian ambassador to Nepal.
The sources also said both sides might also be holding the Joint Commission meeting at the level of the foreign ministers and that might give a direction to the foreign secretary-level talks on the border. The Joint Commission meeting takes place once every year. It is yet to meet for this year.
Earlier this week, in an interview to ThePrint, Nepal’s Ambassador to India Nilamber Acharya said this is a “positive sign” that both the prime ministers have finally spoken.
“India and Nepal should begin a dialogue soon. India and Nepal will resolve all issues peacefully if a sustained dialogue is built,” Acharya had told ThePrint.
Air transport bubble with Nepal
India is also planning to start an air transport bubble with Nepal and other neighbouring countries soon since movement of people across the land borders continue to remain restricted, the Ministry of External Affairs stated Thursday.
Air travel bubbles are temporary arrangements between two countries aimed at restarting commercial passenger services when regular international flights are suspended — in this case, due to Covid-19.
India has created air transport bubbles with the US, France, Germany and the UAE. In the neighbourhood, such an arrangement has already started with the Maldives, while for others, the work is in progress.
Also read: Delhi, Kathmandu must have sustained talks on all issues, not just border, says Nepal envoy