New road to Kailash Mansarovar runs into diplomatic trouble

New road to Kailash Mansarovar runs into diplomatic trouble

Nepal says India has breached a 2014 agreement

India’s plans to shorten the travel time for pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar ran into a diplomatic trouble as Nepal strongly objected to the new link road from India to China which was inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday. In a strongly worded statement, Nepal’s Foreign Ministry said the decision to build the road through territory at the Lipulekh pass that it claims as its territory is a breach of an agreement reached between the two countries to discuss the matter.

“The Government of Nepal has learnt with regret about the ‘inauguration’ yesterday by India of ‘Link Road’ connecting to Lipulekh, which passes through Nepali territory,” said the statement on Saturday.

“This unilateral act runs against the understanding reached between the two countries including at the level of Prime Ministers that a solution to boundary issues would be sought through negotiation,” the statement said, referring to the agreement between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and (then) Nepal PM Sushil Koirala in 2014 for Foreign Secretaries to work out the “outstanding boundary issues” on Kalapani (where Lipulekh lies) and Susta.

MEA response

The Ministry of External Affairs said the road going through Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district “lies completely within the territory of India”.

“The road follows the pre-existing route used by the pilgrims of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. Under the present project, the same road has been made pliable for the ease and convenience of pilgrims, locals and traders,” the MEA said, adding that the boundary delineation exercise with Nepal is ongoing, and that “India is committed to resolving outstanding boundary issues through diplomatic dialogue and in the spirit of our close and friendly bilateral relations with Nepal”.

Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, along with Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda”, both of whom are co-chairmen of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) issued separate statements, referring to India’s decision to build the road during the coronavirus pandemic as “deplorable”, and urged India and Nepal to take steps to resolve the issue.

Several student activists from the All Nepal National Free Students Union (ANNFSU) affiliated to the ruling Nepal Communist Party and other groups protested outside the Indian embassy in Kathmandu over the new road. “Leaders within the ruling party are also putting pressure on the government to take initiatives in the matter,” a senior Nepali official told The Hindu.

The road that starts from Dharchula in Uttarakhand and runs 80 km to the Lipulekh pass was built by the Border Roads Organisation to help shorten the travel time to reach Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet by about three days each way. Mr. Singh had ‘inaugurated’ it via video conference on Friday, flanked by Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat and Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Mukund Naravane.

“The Government of Nepal calls upon the Government of India to refrain from carrying out any activity inside the territory of Nepal,” the Nepal Foreign Ministry added.

Nepal’s latest objection comes months after another protest in November 2019 by Mr. Oli’s government against the publication of Indian maps that included the Kalapani area. At the time, the Ministry of External Affairs had rejected Nepal’s contention, asserting that the map “accurately depicts the sovereign territory of India”.

In its latest statement, the Nepali Foreign Ministry also referred to previous notes verbales issued in 2015, after India and China included Lipulekh pass in an agreement on bilateral trade routes, during PM Modi’s visit to China, and said the pending boundary issues, that surfaced in 1997 when India and China agreed to reopen the pass, should be resolved through “diplomatic means”.

“With this in mind, the Government of Nepal has proposed twice the dates for holding the meeting of the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries, as mandated by their leaders, for which the response from the Indian side is still awaited,” the Foreign Ministry said.

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