First meet starts, but scepticism remains Observers lay stress on need to take the discussions beyond rhetoric
Jul 5, 2016-The first meeting of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) that began in Kathmandu on Monday has agreed to recommend revision of all bilateral treaties and agreements, including the Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty 1950, in an attempt to reset the tone of bilateral ties in the changed context.
Though the members of the EPG from both sides agreed not to disclose all the agendas and minutes to the media, sources familiar with the meeting told the Post that the Indian side expressed readiness to recommend revision of all bilateral treaties.The EPG was conceptualised during Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Nepal in August 2014, but the delay in holding its first meeting even after almost two years had stoked scepticism among observers. The first meeting on Monday was an exploratory one to formulate agendas, modalities and way forward, but some observers said it failed to discuss the issue in substance.
During the inaugural speech on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Kamal Thapa, who was the chief guest, called for a new approach to the bilateral relations, arguing that the global order and situation, including Nepal and India’s standing in the world today, has become different from the 1950s when the Peace and Friendship Treaty was signed. “We can’t ignore the changing dynamics of relationship. The treaties, agreements and arrangements that guided our relations in the then context might require appropriate revision to deal with the needs of the present time,” DPM Thapa said. “Both our two countries—with different size and population—are equally sovereign, but both should understand that absolute reciprocity can’t be offered by small states. But nonetheless, Nepal-India relation is unique and stands on its own merit,” he said, adding: “There is no need for comparison. I believe the EPG will take into consideration these realities.”
A former minister, however, described the discussion as more political rhetoric than substantial debate.
“What does the change context mean?” he wondered. “We understand the fact that revision of bilateral agreements is a must, but unless we broach the issue of trade and investment among others, there is a threat that ‘review of treaties’ will merely become rhetoric,” he added.
Bhagat Singh Koshyari, co-chair and leader from the Indian side in the EPG, said, “India always wants good ties with Nepal.”
“India and Nepal have the same blood group,” he added, stressing on the cultural similarities. “Koshyari has same right to Pashupatinath as Nilamber Acharya (an EPG member from the Nepali side) has right to Badrinath Kedarnath. But if Koshyari wants to have rights to Singha Durbar and Acharya seeks such rights in Raisina Hill (a metonymn for the seat of government of India), then the problem starts.”
Koshyari said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to see Nepal as happy as Bhutan.
“As neighbours, we will explore how we can stay connected on political, cultural, social, developmental and economic aspects. This is a continued process, but India wants to see early stability here,” said Koshyari.
The comprehensive report of the EPG will also make suggestions on anything that needs to be updated, amended or replaced [by new treaty/agreement].
According to Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, co-chair and leader of the Nepali side in the EPG, the agreement reached at the two-day meeting will be made public on Tuesday. Besides accommodating Nepal’s proposal, the Indian side on Monday primarily focused on avoiding negativity in the bilateral relations.
Nepali EPG members include former foreign minister Thapa, former CIAA chief commissioner Surya Nath Upadhyay, former law minister Nilamber Acharya and CPN-UML lawmaker Rajan Bhattarai.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Koshyari, former vice-chancellor of Sikkim University Mahendra P Lama, former Indian ambassador to Nepal Jayant Prasad and VIF senior fellow BC Upreti are representing the Indian side in the EPG.
Published: 05-07-2016 13:47