Drawing lines

  • Kalapani is often lost in the chorus of centuries-old Nepal-India relations or in the din of Indian meddling

Aug 11, 2017-As India and China are locked in a high-altitude, high-stakes border standoff over the Doklam plateau, an area Bhutan says belongs to it, Nepal is placed in a unique situation. There are fears that Nepal could get caught up in a big-power rivalry, just like Bhutan is now. 

The Kalapani tri-junction in the district of Darchula is a Nepali territory that was occupied by India in the 1950s. While King Mahendra made the Indians withdraw all their other military posts situated in Nepal, in 1970, he let the one at Kalapani stay. Informed sources—including the ones The Kathmandu Post has recently talked to—say that while Mahendra was keen to exercise Nepal’s sovereignty and international presence, he was wary of pushing it too far against India.  

More than half a century later, the Doklam standoff has reminded Nepalis to remain vigilant in order to safeguard their national integrity. Could Nepal get caught up in big-power games tomorrow? Isn’t it time to sort out the Kalapani issue for good? Certain concerns continue to haunt Nepalis in light of agreements India and China have made in the past. 

A Sino-Indian border protocol signed during then Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s Delhi visit in April 2005 appears to have upheld India’s claim over Kalapani.

Nepal government then had tried to clear the air saying that Beijing had communicated to the Nepali side that there were no Chinese concerns regarding Lipulek Pass, and that it held the view that matters surrounding Kalapani should be resolved through bilateral consultation between Nepal and India.

What adds to Nepal’s concerns is the fact that, in 2015, India and China agreed to expand a trade route through Lipulek Pass, taking Nepal by complete surprise. From Kathmandu’s perspective, official correspondences to Delhi and Beijing never received satisfactory responses; relations between the Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at that time were hitting high notes.   

On Tuesday, a senior Chinese official rhetorically asked an Indian media delegation in Beijing: “What would New Delhi do if China enters Kalapani region or Kashmir”. “The Indian side also has many tri-junctions. What if we use the same excuse and enter the Kalapani region between China, India and Nepal,” PTI news agency quoted Wang Wenli, deputy director general of the Boundary an Ocean Affairs of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as also saying. 

For Nepal, this perhaps could be the right moment to raise our own concerns. Senior officials from both New Delhi and Beijing are visiting Kathmandu this week. India’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Sushma Swaraj arrived in Kathmandu yesterday and China’s Vice Premier Wang Yang will be landing on August 14. While expecting a resolution to Kalapani immediately would be unrealistic, it is important to at least bring to our neighbours’ notice that Kalapani belongs to us.

Published: 11-08-2017 08:28

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