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Ahead of Gywali’s visit, Nepal & India differ on conducting ‘border talks’

ISSUE-2-Nepal-13-01-2021

The Kalapani territorial dispute is expected to be “raised” by Nepal during the Joint Commission meeting to be held here during the visit of Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gywali this week, but there will be no “border talks”, officials here confirmed.

The visit, which was announced by Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli in his speech to the Upper House of Parliament, will instead focus on the Joint Commission agenda, which includes a broad spectrum of development projects, the officials said, adding that the boundary issue that erupted last year over Nepal’s decision to include Indian territories in its map, would be handled separately only when the designated Foreign Secretary-level mechanism, which is agreed upon bilaterally, meets.

In Nepal, however, officials said the resolution of the dispute remains important for improving overall bilateral ties that plunged to new lows last year. “We have been urging India repeatedly through diplomatic notes to bring the border dispute to the table and the Joint Commission is an opportunity for us to that,” said Rajan Bhattarai, Foreign Affairs Adviser to Mr. Oli, explaining Nepal’s direction for the Joint Commission talks.

Mr. Gyawali is expected to reach here on Thursday. The 6th Joint Commission meeting has been delayed by more than a year because of the row over the Kalapani issue and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission met for the 5th round on August 22, 2019, when the entire gamut of bilateral relation was discussed. Mr. Oli had said that Mr. Gyawali would discuss “the issue related to the border and several other matters”. Mr. Gyawali is expected to deliver a public lecture at the Vivekananda International Foundation on January 15.

Vaccine supply

It is understood that Nepal may raise its requirement of COVID-19 vaccines and both sides may discuss an agreement for their supply, once the government clarifies its plans to allow the export of Covishield and Covaxin.

“India will have greater clarity on export of COVID-19 vaccines within the next few weeks,” External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar was quoted as telling a Reuters news agency event on Monday, indicating that the government may still consider prioritising its domestic vaccine requirement before sending consignments abroad.

Nepal is also expected to raise the need to discuss and adopt the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) report which has been completed but has not found official recognition from the Indian side. The EPG, constituted by Prime Minister Modi and Mr. Oli in February 2016, had recommended several measures such as firming up Nepal’s land boundary with India and the revision of historic treaties. “The established procedure agreed among the members of the EPG was that the completed report should be submitted to the Indian PM first. The report is now ready but it is yet to be accepted by the Indian PM,” Mr. Bhattarai said.

Mr. Gyawali’s visit comes weeks after Mr. Oli recommended dissolution of the Lower House of Parliament — Pratinidhi Sabha. The “broader message” of the visit is likely to be India’s silent acknowledgement of the action of Mr. Oli. India had to engage Mr. Oli now as the other option would be to wait for the election which may not be held in the foreseeable future.

Prime Minister Oli has called for election in April-May, however, the legal process over the dissolution of the Lower House is under way and sources indicated that they are expecting that the polling could be postponed.

“As far as we are concerned, the Joint Commission between the Indian and Nepalese Foreign Ministers is one of the topmost politically important bilateral mechanisms. It should have met earlier but could not be held. We welcome India’s decision to host the meeting,” said Mr. Bhattarai, when asked to comment about the “broader message” that will emanate from the meeting.