Friday, 12 April, 2024

Solve Border Issue Through Quiet Diplomacy

Dr. Rambhakta Thakur

The ocean-like Nepal-India relations suddenly erupted into bitterness by exchanging remarks against each other. The reason was clear because both sides have touched the soft belly of each other regarding claim on Lipiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulek covering 372 square km. Nepal has been claiming these areas for the last six decades which has constantly appeared in various official visits of Nepali leaders to India. Even during former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba’s visit to India in 1996, it was agreed to start the survey works in those areas to ascertain the fact related the source of the Mahakali River. Sugauli Treaty of 1816 depicts that west of Kali goes to India and the east of it belongs to Nepal. Here, there is a misunderstanding about the origin of source of Kali River. Nepal claims Lipiyadhura is its source while India claims Lipulek khola (rivulet) as its source.
Unfortunately, both countries are entangled in misunderstanding because of strategic location of the areas. The first principle of solution can be to understand that Nepal-India bond of friendship is complimentary to each other. Occupying the neighbour’s land is not a new problem in the international affairs. There are many examples in which border disputes have been settled in an amicable way while many others taken to the UN and International Court of Justice. There are also cases of fighting over the border issues. In some cases, sale and purchase were a remedy. In the cases of strategic location, territories are taken on lease or even exchanged. We have even taken on lease a piece of land in Raxaul for running railway in 1923.Viewing the practices in the world, it seems the last two solutions are the best to be emulated for ongoing Nepal-India border dispute. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka offer recent examples. India has applied this formula to settle the old-aged enigma of territorial dispute with these nations.
Nepal became alert when Chinese president Xi Jinping and Indian PM Narendra Modi decided to use the route of Lipulek for their trade and tourism in 2015. Nepal, therefore, protested it. China has acknowledged the gravity of the case whereas India did not prefer to take it seriously. Rather, it unilaterally included in her map and further constructed a road to Lipulek for the purpose of trade and tourism with China. This act has further injured the wound which Nepal has received in economic blockade in 2015.
But this type of preconceived attitude should not get a place while dealing with India. Because, I give an example of Koilabas, a small town on Indian border near Dang of Nepal and Basti side of India. Koilabas was the claim of India and our teams were not able to settle that problem for years. I was sent as border team leader from the Foreign Ministry in 2036 B.S. I understood the problem and I found the old map prepared during the time of British rule in India depicting Koilabas in the Nepali territory. I presented that map in the meeting and requested to wind up the case because then after no map has been prepared jointly. Since then the dispute was over. Therefore, it is not appropriate to malign the intention of neighbour for any disputed factors without going in details. I am very sure if we meet and explain the cases with treaty, maps, and administrative evidences like census, referendum, election, taxes, revenues and others, India will certainly agree and accept that truth.
Evidently, since the 1962 Indo-China war, Nepal has been asking to go for survey in that disputed areas which was being ignored for this or that reasons by India. Even during the visit of Foreign Minister Prakash Chandra Lohani (1995) and PM Sher Bahadur Deuba (1996) to India, and Indian PM Atal Bihari Bajpayee, IK Gujral (1997) and Narendra Modi (2014) to Nepal, the later has raised the border issues including Kalapani to be settled but India agreed only in words. In reality it was never materialised. Situation headed to a climax when on 2nd November 2019, India published a political map, the 9th edition, Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulek in the Indian territory. On 8 May Indian defiance minister inaugurated road to Lipulek. Responding to the Indian move, Nepal also published a map on May 18 showing all these three territories in Nepal, and the federal parliament endorsed it unanimously on June 13.
Last week, the Defence Minister of India stated his country’s desire to sit at negotiation table to discuss the issue in an amicable way in view of the close relations between Nepal and India. Considering the unique relations between Nepal and India, we must agree that there is no place for chauvinism or jingoism. Similarly, quiet diplomacy can’t be replaced by ponder diplomacy. The time has come to redefine the sensitivity with the more pragmatic word ‘legitimate interest’. In this respect we have to understand each other’s compulsion too. If we understand the deciphering the destiny of Kalapani region, we could perhaps come to a safe landing from the vortex of the inexorable situation of today. A tenacious and stupendous engagement is required to overcome this crisis.
Therefore, at present, quiet diplomacy with political determination is the only solution. Nepal first should send an astute special envoy to India for talking and drawing a roadmap of future talks keeping in view of the sensitivities and strategic position of India, and finding the origin of Kali River. Only then a foreign secretary level team should go for or negotiation with a full-fledged team of home, survey, security and hydro experts. Once the origin of Kali River is determined, the whole problem is solved.
In the meantime, Nepal should consult with China because in 1961 when boundary treaty was signed with China, both Nepal and China had many gives and takes. While solving the boundary problem near Lipulek area, Nepal had claimed Ralam glaciers too including these areas for which China had also placed her claim, but finally when we ceded Ralam glacier to China, then China agreed for Lipulek, tinker all areas for Nepal. There are evidences. In negotiation mind all doors are never closed and there is always an emergency exit. We should never advance towards a point of no return. Hopefully, with accommodative and cooperative understanding we can solve this problem.

(Dr. Thakur is former ambassador and advisor to foreign ministry.)