Days after its government sought parliament’s backing for a Bill on the country’s new political map that includes territories on Indian maps, Kathmandu has conveyed to Delhi that it is open to the idea of a virtual meeting between the Foreign Secretaries to resolve the border issue that is threatening relations.
The Sunday Express has learnt that the Nepal government, via a note verbale (a diplomatic note), said that the Foreign Secretaries can meet in person or hold a virtual meeting to discuss the issue of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura, the Indian territories it is claiming.
Last month, Delhi said that the Foreign Secretaries, Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Shankar Das Bairagi, will discuss the issue “after” the two countries have “successfully dealt” with the Covid-19 pandemic.
On May 9, the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs said: “Both sides are in the process of scheduling Foreign Secretary level talks which will be held once the dates are finalised between the two sides after the two societies and governments have successfully dealt with the challenge of Covid-19 emergency.”
The idea of Foreign secretary level talks – it began in 1997 during Prime Minister I K Gujarat’s visit and again during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-GP Koirala talks in 2000 — was revived by Nepal last November, but these could not be held.
Given the uncertainty over how long the Covid pandemic will continue, Kathmandu is now seeking talks through videoconference.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has held several videoconferences, starting with SAARC countries which was attended by Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, and then G-20 countries. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has also met several counterparts through videoconference.
On May 8, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh used a video-link to inaugurate the new 80-km road via Lipulekh on the Mansarovar Yatra trail, triggering a wave of protests in Nepal which says the territory belongs to it.
Nepal’s Foreign Ministry objected to the opening of the road, and described India’s move as an “unilateral act”. This, it said, ran against the understanding between the two countries, including at the level of Prime Ministers, that a solution to boundary issues would be sought through negotiations.
On May 20, the Nepal government released a new political map depicting Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura within its borders.
And last Sunday, Nepal Law Minister Shiva Maya Tumbahamphe tabled a constitution amendment Bill, seeking to give legal sanctity to the new map. The government was assured the support of two-thirds in the House of Representatives following the decision of the Nepali Congress, the main Opposition party, to back the legislation.