The just concluded 3-day visit to Nepal of the Indian Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane though considered fulfilment of a historical ritual between India and Nepal but it is significant in many ways. It was the first high level visit from the Indian side to Kathmandu since relations between the two countries soured for over a year now. Keeping with the tradition, General Naravane was conferred honorary rank of General of Nepal Army by President Bidya Devi Bhandari in the presence of Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, who is also Defence Minister of the country, after the incumbent Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel was divested of Defence Portfolio recently. Indian Ambassador to Nepal Vinay Kwatra, Nepal Army Chief Purna Chandra Thapa and senior officials from both sides were present on the occasion. Both India and Nepal have a tradition of bestowing the honorary title to each other’s Army General since 1952. Nepal Army General Thapa was honoured with the honorary rank of General of Indian army in January 2019.
Obviously, it was a big occasion for reiteration of close affinity and deep understanding of each other’s security concerns by two close neighbours, India and Nepal having nearly 1,800 Kms. long open border. Realizing their geographical and geopolitical proximity, the two countries have, apart from military ties, century’s old religious, cultural, social, people to people and economic relations to mutual benefit. India provides Nepal army assistance in its modernization through training of its personnel and supply of equipment. The armies of the two countries also hold joint military exercises alternatively in India and Nepal.
Apart from being the first high level visit to Nepal in many months, it gave an opportunity to both countries for better understanding of each other’s concerns. According to reports, Prime Minister Oli told General Naravane when he called on him that any misunderstanding between the two countries can be resolved through talks. His Foreign Relations Advisor later said that what Nepal wants from India is to resolve the Kalapani row which figured during the meeting. In fact, the chill between India Nepal relations was demystified to a large extent when Mr. Oli rang up Prime Minister Narendra Modi to congratulate him on Independence Day and on India’s election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.
The cordial ties between India and Nepal plunged sea deep after Nepal reissued its territorial map including Limpyadhura and Kalapani areas of Uttarakhand state, which Nepal claimed as its sovereign territory. Nepal took objection to India inaugurating 80 Kms. long road from Dharchula town in Uttarakhand to Lipulekh pass near the trijunction of India, Nepal and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China in May this year. Nepal wanted immediate Foreign Secretary level dialogue to resolve the border row but as Covid-19 pandemic was on the rise in both countries, India deferred it till the situation improved.
The Oli government in Nepal issued a revised country map showing Lipulekh, Limpyadhura and Kalapani, an area of about 335 square kilometers as its sovereign territory and got it approved from Parliament. It also made the new map part of the school curricula. India while calling for restraint on such unjustified cartographic assertion wanted Kathmandu to create positive atmosphere for dialogue to resolve the outstanding boundary issues. To ease the situation, Nepal has since withdrawn its new territorial map from school curricula.
Reports say quoting strategic analysts and security experts that General Naravane’s visit as well as recent steps taken by Nepal government would help build mutual trust and confidence for resumption of dialogue to find lasting solution to the outstanding issues.
Script: Rattan Saldi, Political Commentator