Army chief MM Naravane heads to Nepal amid moves to repair ties

Army chief MM Naravane heads to Nepal amid moves to repair ties

In what would be the first high-level Indian visit to Nepal after the boundary dispute escalated this summer, Indian Army chief General MM Naravane will visit Kathmandu next month. While the dates are yet to be announced, the Nepal Army, in a statement Wednesday, said the Indian Army chief “will visit Nepal in the month of November this year”. It said the visit was “approved by the Government of Nepal” on February 3, but “was postponed due to lockdown in both the countries”.

Nepal Army spokesperson Brigadier General Santosh Poudel said the two sides were in touch to decide the dates. During the visit, Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bhandari will confer the rank of the Honorary General of the Nepal Army on Gen Naravane — it’s a 70-year-old tradition, a reciprocal arrangement between the two armies since 1950.

The choice of General Naravane for the first high-level Indian visit to Kathmandu since the boundary row gained momentum is significant since it was his comment that Nepal was acting at the “behest of someone else” — an oblique reference to China — which complicated relations amid tensions over the boundary issue.

On May 15, General Naravane suggested that Nepal might be raising the issue of Indian road construction via Lipulekh to Mansarovar at the “behest of someone else”.

Nepal reacted sharply to the Army chief’s comments. Nepal Defence Minister Ishwar Pokhrel called the statement “insulting… ignoring Nepal’s history, our social characteristics and freedom”. The inauguration of the new road from Dharchula to Lipulekh on the Mansarovar Yatra route angered the KP Sharma Oli government which came out with a new map of Nepal, adding to it an area of 370 sq km at the tri-junction of Nepal, India and China (Tibet) which India maintains is its territory.

Constitution amendment Bill was passed by Nepal’s parliament to legitimize the alteration or addition of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura to the country’s new map. The passage of the Bill and the new map led to breakdown of communication between the two countries.

But in recent months, starting from the phone conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Oli, efforts have been made for a rapprochement between the two countries.

This was followed by a meeting between officials in Kathmandu to review projects funded by the Indian government. The August 17 meeting took place in Kathmandu where Nepal’s Foreign Secretary Shankar Das Bairagi led a team of officials and the Indian side was led by Indian ambassador Vinay Mohan Kwatra.

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