New Delhi: Not just with India, Kathmandu also has border issues with China when it comes to the Kalapani-Lipulekh as the entire area is disputed, said Bishnu Rijal of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, Rijal, Deputy Chief of Nepal’s Department of Foreign Affairs and member of NCP Central Committee, said the new Indian road to Kailash Mansarovar, inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on 8 May, crosses into Nepal’s territory.
“It is a long road and we don’t claim it. But around 18 km of the road enters our territory, which means India unveiled the road officially claiming it as their own, so the issue was bound to come up. It is very natural,” he said.
Rijal said the road, which is about 80-km long, connects to Lipulekh pass, which in part of Nepal.
“We have reservations with China also on this territory. When Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi visited China in 2015 we wrote protest letters to both India and China for agreeing to make it a trading pass,” he highlighted, adding that while China responded positively to the request and agreed to discuss the matter, India chose to ignore it.
“It is unnecessary to drag China into this. We have a reservation with China also in this regard… Neighbours can have issues sometimes,” he said. “India and Nepal have a historical and time-tested relationship and we have many similarities. We have no other way but dialogue to resolve the matter.”
According to Rijal, while Nepal was moving ahead with the new map, attempts were made even from Prime Minister K.P. Oli’s office to reach out to Prime Minister Modi.
“We understand India is under pressure now. It is having border issues with China and its coronavirus numbers are also increasing,” he said. “But I know after a while, India will realise and will hold the talks.”
‘Entire Kalapani was agreed as disputed’
Rijal also highlighted the fact that when India agreed to discuss the matter with Kathmandu in 1997 during the visit of then Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, there was no consensus on the exact area under dispute in the Kalapani region.
“It was never specified that 60 sq km was disputed or 334 sq km, which is now part of Nepal’s territory. The understanding after the visit of former Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral to Nepal in 1997 was that the entire Kalapani was disputed,” he said.
The Modi government feels Nepal has carried out “artificial enlargement” of its territory and that it will not accept Nepal’s claim or their new map.
According to Rijal, neither India nor Nepal ever discussed the quantum of the land that was under dispute. “Nepal has already sent many requests to India for holding foreign secretary-level talks and we have twice handed over diplomatic notes to the Indian Ambassador here, since the map was changed. We are eagerly waiting and we are hopeful we will be able to resolve all our differences through a dialogue,” he added.
Growing unease in the region
Nepal had been ratcheting up the border dispute with India since November 2019 when India released its new political map, which included areas such as Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh in its territory.
“India never sent any formal letter to Nepal or said in public that they have reached out to us. This is all a play, such kind of play does not work. In fact, Nepal is waiting for India’s formal response,” he said.
Rijal added that the inauguration of the new road to Kailash Mansarovar connecting to Lipulekh pass was “unexpected” and that India had agreed to discuss the matter with Kathmandu.
“It is our right to protect our territory. In Nepal, we made a joint effort to amend our Constitution. All parties are united in this. Yes, we have our own issues and differences but on this point all were united,” he said. “We will produce all the documents on the table when we discuss this with India. I don’t know why India is not talking to us.”
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