Nepal seeks talks with India as soon as possible on Kalapani border row

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Nepal’s foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali on Friday called on India to start negotiations as soon as possible to resolve the border row over the Kalapani region, saying New Delhi hadn’t responded to several requests from Kathmandu for talks on the issue.

Gyawali also described a tripartite agreement signed by India, Nepal and the UK in 1947 for the recruitment of Nepalese Gorkha soldiers as “redundant” and said Kathmandu would prefer to handle this issue bilaterally with the two countries.

Participating in a webinar organised by the Nepal Institute of International Relations, the minister responded to a question on the border row with India by saying that the issue was one of the “unresolved questions left by history”.

“We are still requesting India to start negotiations at the earliest so that the problems would not go to the streets,” he said. “Formal diplomatic engagement [on the issue] is extremely critical,” he added.

Nepal had formally asked several times to start diplomatic negotiations to settle problems over the Kalapani region, and proposed dates for talks but there was “no timely response” from New Delhi, Gyawali said.

Though New Delhi cited the Covid-19 pandemic as a factor for the talks not being held at the current juncture, India has had diplomatic engagements with countries such as Australia, China and the US in recent months, he noted.

There was no immediate response from Indian officials to Gyawali’s remarks.

The border row over Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura became a major irritant in bilateral ties after India opened a new road to Lipulekh to facilitate pilgrims going to Kailash Mansarovar. Nepal responded by publishing a new map that included the disputed territories.

Nepal continues to be in touch with India on the issue through informal channels though no dates have been decided for talks, Gyawali said.

He also acknowledged that the rest of the relationship with India “is okay” as critical supply chains were unaffected and India-funded development projects were carrying on. “We have been able to differentiate the boundary issue from other broader engagements and I think it is the right way to deal with a close neighbour,” he said.

Referring to the tripartite agreement on the recruitment of Nepalese Gorkha soldiers in the armies of India and the UK, he said this was a “legacy of the past” and the pact “has become redundant”.

“[The agreement] had created a lot of jobs in the past, but in the changed context, some of its provisions are questionable,” he said, adding Nepal would prefer to handle the matter bilaterally with India and the UK.

Responding to a question about Nepal’s position on the India-China border standoff, Gyawali said: “Being a close friend and a close neighbour of both countries, we urge both nations to de-escalate the tensions, to start negotiations, to solve peacefully the problems, engage constructively to solve the problems and to play a bigger role for the betterment of both countries, the region and the globe.”

“When the tensions escalate, naturally Nepal becomes very worried because it will create a bigger and wider impact in the region,” he said, adding it is important for India and China to continue their engagements to reduce tensions.

Gyawali also said a recent virtual meeting of the foreign ministers of Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan hosted by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi was focused solely on the response to Covid-19 and wasn’t an attempt to create a new sub-regional grouping.

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