Print Edition - 2016-01-17  |  Free the Words

Drawing lines

  • Unless Nepal’s international boundaries are well defined it will be exploited by its neigbours
- Ranadhoj Limbu, Kathmandu
Nepali political leaders never had the moral courage to confidently articulate their views in front of the international community. Nepal remained silent to several India-China joint statements on Lipulekh Pass

Jan 17, 2016-Historical documents testify that two of the fundamental aims that drove British India to invade Nepal in 1814 were to ensure free access to Tibetan markets and a secure boundary with Nepal. As Nepal lost the war, the British imposed the Sugauli Treaty of 1816 on Nepal, which among other points, defined the Kalee River as the western border between Nepal and India. However, the Treaty was not accompanied with maps clearly delineating the boundaries. Nevertheless, various maps published by the British immediately after 1816 and before 1856 clearly indicate that the Kalee River originates  from Limpiyadhura, Kalapani. 

The British probably realised immediately after signing the treaty that if the river is taken as the international boundary, its traders cannot have free access to Tibetan markets through some of the important Himalayan passes including Lipulekh Pass. This could have been the major reason that the British changed, gradually and systematically, the name of the actual Kalee River to Kuti River or Kuti Yangti and named one of the tributaries originating from Lipulekh Pass as Kalee River. This is what the different maps published by the British after 1856 indicate in general. Indeed, various contradictory schools of thoughts prevail regarding the identification of the Kalee River defined in the Sugauli Treaty as the boundary between India and Nepal. 

Different views

One school of thought believes that Kalee River defined by the Sugauli Treaty originates from Limpiyadhura Pass.  In general, almost all the pre-1879 maps published by the British India and findings of hydrological survey support this viewpoint. Even some of the maps published after 1879 support this viewpoint. Local people of the villages in the region—Gunji, Nabhi, and Kuti—located by the side of this river, call it ‘Kuti Yangti’, which also means Kalee River in the local dialect.  Moreover, the holy Parbati Kunda is situated by the side of this river, suggesting that this river is the actual Kalee River. And, according to the internationally accepted principle of hydrology, the main river is differentiated from its tributaries by the following essential characteristics: (a) it is the longest in length, (b) it has bigger catchment area and more tributaries than others, and (c) it contains more quantity of water than other tributaries. Thus, it means the river originating from Limpiyadhura Pass is the Kalee River outlined in Sugalui Treaty. According to this viewpoint, Nepal-India-China border tri-junction falls on Limpiyadhura Pass.   

A second school of thought believes that the Lipu Khola that originates from Lipulekh Pass is the actual Kalee River. Some of the post-1856 maps, and mostly those published after 1879, support this line of thought. The map published by the Nepal government after Nepal-China Border Treaty of 1961 also supports this viewpoint. This viewpoint runs against the principle and findings of hydrological survey, according to which the river emerging from Lipulekh Pass is only one of the small tributaries of the actual Kalee River coming down from Limpiyadhura Pass. Nepal-India-China border tri-junction point, as per this viewpoint, falls on Lipulekh Pass, and Kalapani is included within the territory of Nepal, though Limpiyadhura area (335 sq km) is excluded.  

A third school of thought that is also supported by the Indian establishment argues that the Kalee River originates from the vicinity of Kalapani, the original name of which is Tulsinurang. A few maps including the one published by the British in 1879 support this argument. According to this viewpoint, the northwest border of Nepal happens to be the border from Kalapani area to Tinker Pass. But this argument is totally against the Sugauli Treaty, which categorically says that Nepal’s western border consists of a river not land. If this viewpoint is accepted, Nepal-India-China tri-junction point will fall in the vicinity of Tinker Pass and both Kalapani and Lipulekh Pass (60 sq km), as well as Limpiyadhura area, will be excluded from the territory of Nepal. 

Not yet resolved

The fact of the matter is that there is no other treaty between Nepal and British India or Independent India that supersedes the Sugauli Treaty of 1816, which clearly defines Kalee River as the western border of Nepal. Moreover, the locations of the tri-junction points can be finalised only with the consent of all the three countries involved—Nepal, India, and China. Further, as per the international convention, the tri-junction point is marked by the pillar number zero. Till now the border pillars along the Nepal-China border have been marked by pillar one (at Tinker Bhanjyang) in the west to 79 (at Chabukala Bhanjyng) in the east. Pillar Number Zeros i.e. tri-junction points on Nepal-China-India remain to be marked. 

Nepali political leaders never had 

the moral courage to confidently 

articulate the first school of thought in front of the international community. Though Nepal government had been half-heartedly trying to follow the second school of thought, it remained silent and indifferent to several India-China joint statements regarding the use of Lipulekh Pass as a common trade and pilgrimage passage. 

For the one billion Indian Hindus, Lipulekh Pass (altitude -17500 ft) provides the shortest land route to Kailash—Mansarowar via the Tibetan town of Taklakot (12674ft). And distances from Lipulekh Pass to Kalapani (11696 ft) and to Taklakot is almost the same (approximately 18.5 kilometer). Moreover, 

light vehicle road-head on the Chinese side is only one kilometer from the Lipulekh Pass and travelling from 

there is comparatively much easier. Further, a sizable Chinese military 

force is stationed at Taklakot, which itself is strategically located on the 

High Way (Silk Road) leading to Central Asia in the west and to mainland China in the east. Lipulekh Pass is, therefore, vitally important for India for several reasons.  However, it is very difficult for India to sustain Lipulekh Pass operationally and logistically without occupying Kalapani.  

The issue of Nepal’s border thus remains complex and ‘India-locked’ Nepal seems to have very limited options. Further, Nepal must realise the fact that as long as its international boundary remains ill-defined, un-demarcated and unsecured, there is always the possibility of further manipulation and exploitation by the neighbours. Indeed, lingering dispute on the border in the past has led to irreparable losses for Nepal. Nepal should, therefore, give highest priority to the demarcation of the border and secure it with security forces, where required. The sooner it is done, the better. What is required is a sincere intention and will.   

Limbu is a former Nepal Army Officer

Published: 17-01-2016 09:16

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