Indian Foreign Secretary Shringla visiting Nepal on November 26

Indian Foreign Secretary Shringla visiting Nepal on November 26

It comes after months of tensions over map.

After months of tensions and sharpened rhetoric between India and Nepal over disputed maps, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla will pay an official visit to Kathmandu on November 26-27. Sources in the government said this was a “courtesy” visit, the first since Mr. Shringla took over as Foreign Secretary in January last, and was not meant to formally discuss the contentious border issue. 

The sources said India was responding to a “reach out” by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, when he called his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on August 15. 

“The [Foreign Secretary’s] visit is in keeping with the tradition of regular high-level exchanges between the two countries and the priority India attaches to its relations with Nepal. During the visit, Foreign Secretary will meet his counterpart and other Nepalese dignitaries to discuss the wide-ranging bilateral cooperation between the two countries,” the MEA said in a statement released simultaneously with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) in Kathmandu. 

The MoFA said Mr. Shringla would meet his counterpart Bharat Raj Paudyal on Thursday, after which he would call on “high-level dignitaries”. 

Sources said that Mr. Shringla might also make a public address and visit an India-Nepal development cooperation project, depending on the arrangements required amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“He will also hand over Covid-19 related support to the Government of Nepal,” the MoFA added. 

Relations between India and Nepal hit new lows in May 2020, after Nepal’s government decided to amend its Constitution to adopt a new map that included Indian territories, including Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura, a move that India protested as “unilateral”, “unacceptable” and “unjustified cartographic aggression”. The Nepal government said that its actions followed the publication of new map by India last November, after the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir showed what it called disputed territories under Indian control, and the inauguration by India of an 80 km-long road connecting to the border with China at the Lipulekh pass. Matters took a turn for the worse as Mr. Oli accused India of interfering in domestic politics of Nepal to overturn his government, where deep cracks have emerged between Mr. Oli and Nepal Communist Party Co-chairman Pushp Kamal Dahal (Prachanda). 

Following Mr. Oli’s call to Mr. Modi on Independence Day, the two sides resumed talks on development cooperation, and the Chief of the Army Staff General Naravane and chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) Samant Goel visited Kathmandu on separate dates. However, Nepal has refused to revise its decision to change its map, which now is also a part of its national symbol. 

Climbdown denial

 Government sources denied that the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Kathmandu denoted a climbdown by India on the border issue, given that Nepal has made no concessions. “Our position on the boundary is very clear and we are not changing it,” said a senior official, adding that as “the Prime Minister of Nepal has reached out to us in August, they then invited the COAS, and we want to take the engagement forward and see where it leads.” 

In the past few months, India has also been concerned about the enhanced engagement between the Chinese government, through its Ambassador in Kathmandu, and the Nepali government. In August last, Nepal took part in a Chinese “trans-Himalayan” conference on tackling COVID-19 that included Pakistan and Afghanistan, and earlier this month, attended another Chinese conference that included Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as well. According to the Kathmandu Post, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe is expected to visit Kathmandu on November 29, a visit that will be watched closely in New Delhi as well. 

“Obviously, we cannot tell other countries whom they can meet,” said another official, adding that “India’s cooperation to Nepal on Covid-19 has been very robust and very proactive as well,” citing Indian supplies of Hydroxychloroquine, Remdesivir, the repatriation of Nepalis from abroad as a part of the Vande Bharat mission, and future possibilities of sharing the COVID-19 vaccine.

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