How China put India, Nepal in troubled waters

How China put India, Nepal in troubled waters

Pune: Two of the world’s closest neighbours, India and Nepal, are locked in a political stand-off after Nepal issued a new map earlier this week showing Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura, located on the tri-junction of India, Nepal and China, to be its territory. All these areas, about 400 sq km, has been part of Indian maps all these years. They are located in Uttarakhand state’s Pithoragarh district.

Nepal objected after the inauguration of Lipulekh Marg

India inaugurated the Lipulekh-Dharachula route on May 8. Nepal had objected, calling it a unilateral decision. It claims that the entire area east of the Mahakali River falls within the Nepal border. In response, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs had said that the Lipulekh falls within our border area and that the Manasarovar Yatra continued even before the Lipulekh route. The road has been built to the facilitate movement of pilgrims, local people and businessmen.

India released its map in November 2019

India released its new political map on November 2, 2019, after Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh union territories came into being. The map covers Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh areas in Indian territory. Nepal had objected to this even at that time. After this, the Indian Foreign Ministry denied any tampering with the border. The foreign ministry had said that the new map does not change the border with Nepal. 

Since when and why is there a dispute?

The Sugauli Treaty was signed between Nepal King and the British East India Company in 1815 after the Anglo-Nepal War. The treaty was signed at Sugauli, now in Bihar. The treaty depicts the Kali River as the western border of Nepal with India. Based on this, Nepal claims these regions. Both countries have their own maps showing the disputed area under their jurisdiction.

China behind Nepal’s stand-off with India: Experts

Experts believe the present confrontation is part of the Chinese strategy that has instigated and attempt to create conflict between the Indo-Nepal borders. 

International relations expert Shrikant Paranjape said, “First of all, it is part and parcel of internal debates where the current Nepali Prime Minister Oli is taking a nationalist position. It is an old tradition practised by Nepal-- to imbibe Nepali-nationalism by taking an anti-India stand. There are several incidents in the past-- similar actions-- like, during the 1970s, when Nepal was treated to be ‘zone of peace’ between India and China. If you are a small kingdom and you are dependent on bigger kingdoms like India to establish your identity, you have to create differences.” 

“Second, what Nepal is doing now is essentially part and parcel of a Chinese strategy to put pinpricks in India-China Border. They have done it in Ladakh and Sikkim. Nepal is another soft area so far in concern with India. Also, with the communist party in power in China, it is easier for them to deal with it. So in these matters, the best thing that they can do is make Nepal push India,” he added. 

‘Matter of symbolism’

He also stated that the action is a matter of symbolism. “The advantage is essentially putting India in backfoot and getting accolades from China. Also, the PM can bring Nepalis together on this nationalist agenda. Most of the India-China borders aren’t demarcated -- it is the line of actual control. So create tensions by creating conflicts. 

“There is no territorial ambition, it is importantly about symbolism and not going for war or territorial capture,” said Paranjape, who is also the former head of defence studies department in Savitribai Phule Pune University. 

‘India-Nepal share a strong socio-cultural relationship’

Explaining about the controversy which took place after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated the road on May 8, Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale (retd) stated that the road construction work by India’s Border Road Organisation (BRO) was underway for the past 12 years. 

“It took so many years because they had to check the environment levels. It is the area where a lot of rock falling happens and also during snowfall they couldn’t carry out the work. The Nepal government knew about this road development. It didn’t happen overnight. So it is very strange that suddenly Nepal took umbrage and claim that it is part of their land and PM Oli published the new map,” said Gokhale who was posted at Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, bordering Nepal, from 1998-2000.

Speaking about the socio-cultural relationship both the countries have shared over the years, Gokhale said, “We share a historic cultural relationship with Nepal. Our relationship is much stronger and beyond these roads or border issues,” he said, adding that as stated by the Army Chief General Manoj Naravane, “It looks like somebody has instigated it.”

None other than China which tries to fish in trouble waters, said Gokhale, adding, “They had done it before, with Bhutan during the Doklam issue. Now they are trying to tell Nepal that look one day India will capture you, and like Sikkim, you will become another state. Whereas I believe in today’s era, China is following trying to colonisation. It is a superpower in the making without any moral stand.

“They are basically trying to make an image that India is a big bully. But we don’t believe in conquering nations but help our neighbouring countries. There are so many Nepalis settled in Uttarakhand; in fact, many friends have Nepali surnames. We have such socio-cultural-economic ties, but such an issue shouldn’t have flared up,” he added.

“China has proposed a railway line from Lhasa in Tibet to Kathmandu-- which seems to involve engineering marvel. But Nepal should worry about ecology as well, as it suffered a massive earthquake a few years ago. Whereas on the contrary to this, India has offered a shorter run between Kathmandu and Raxaul in Bihar, which can boost the trade possibilities. It may be extended to Kolkata and Chittagong ports,” said Gokhale. 

He also added that in fact, in February, India was supposed to deliberate a meeting by officials visiting Nepal. However, because of the COVID-19 situation in the country, the meeting got delayed. However, Gokhale stated that it is unlikely the issue will precipitate a war or a larger fight between India and Nepal. “I believe, it will be eventually solved by bilateral communication between the two nations,” he said.

Giving insights, Lt Gen AL Chavan who has personal knowledge of the area having served there for long periods during 1990, stated that Article V of Treaty of Sugauli of 1815, forms the basis of the boundary between India and Nepal. 

“As per the Treaty, the boundary followed the course of the River Kali. The area to the West of River Kali belongs to India. The treaty fails to mention the source of Kali. Nepal claims that the source of River Kali is at Limpiyadhura, approximately 16 km Northwest of Kalapani and that the Western tributary branching off just south of Kalapani, is the major tributary and the boundary runs along with it. The Indian side maintains that the boundary follows the Eastern tributary of the River Kali, which is the main tributary, and the basis of this is a map of 1875,” he said.

“The 80 km long Dharchula-Lipulekh Pass link Road has been as a follow up of the Sino-Indian Border Trade Agreement of 2015 which designated Lipulekh as one of the Border Trade Points between India and China. It also met the long-standing demand of our pilgrims for a road connecting to the holy sites of Kailash - Mansarovar. The road on the Chinese side of the border has been in existence for long. The Dharchula-Lipulekh has been the traditional route where pilgrims walked for seven days on the western bank of the Kali River to the 17,000 feet high Lipulekh Pass before crossing over to the Chinese side. In addition to this traditional route, pilgrims also visited the Holy sites via Naku La (in Sikkim) and via Kathmandu, Nepal, both routes being connected by road,” he added.

Chavan also said, “Our special relationship with Nepal needs mature, and responsible, Political handling as a failure on our part to resolve the dispute with our smaller friendly neighbours would hurt our international, and regional, standing and would not be conducive to a stable internal security situation in both countries. Especially considering our open borders and freedom for nationals of Nepal to serve our Armed Forces (which they have done with distinction) and work in our country,” said Chauhan.

Honorary Captain Haridatt Joshi (retd), who hails from Pithoragarh and currently settled in Pune, believes China is instigating Nepal. “Who else but China. Nepal should understand politics. Nepal shares its border on three sides with India. Lakhs of Nepali citizens are working in India. No passport or visa is required by citizens to cross the border between Nepal and India. Nepal is dependent on its essential supplies. Both countries have existed peacefully all these years, then why this controversy now. They should understand the political game being played by China and stay away from it”, Joshi added.

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