Kalapani: India Nepal Border Dispute

Sub Title : Opinion of two experts from India and Nepal

Issues Details : Vol 14 Issue 2 May – Jun 2020

Author : Lt Gen AS Bedi, PVSM,UYSM, YSM, VSM (Retd)

Page No. : 34

Category : Geostrategy

: May 31, 2020

Don’t let it Fester

Territorial Integrity and Sovereignty ignite nationalism to a political winnable pitch, especially when there is a need to divert attention. Nepal’s Ruling Party perhaps finds itself in a situation where the insidious narrative of the Kalapani – Lipulek Road suits its current agenda. While matters were allowed to drift for a few days, they now appear to have settled down to an amenable state and to everyone’s satisfaction. As we go to print, Nepal has put on hold a constitutional amendment to update its political map that placed Kalapani within its borders. Defstrat welcomes this development and wishes that the situation is resolved amicably through dialogue. We place before you views of two important Indian and Nepalese strategists on this emerging strategic issue – Editor

The Pilgrimage Road

Lt Gen AS Bedi, PVSM, UYSM, YSM, VSM (Retd)

A simple road constructed to ease the travails of pilgrims to Kailash Mansrover has become the latest flash point between India and Nepal. The genesis of the problem lies in different perceptions of the two countries as to the origin of River Kali. While India considers that the river originates at Kalapani, Nepal contests that the same starts from Lampiyadhura which is further west. As per the treaty of Sugauli signed in 1816, the King of Nepal renounced all claims to the territories lying West of River Kali, thereby making the river de facto border between India and Nepal.

India and Nepal share a special relationship guided by the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950. However, this special bond has come under much stress lately due to growing nationalism and influence of communists within Nepal. Nepal has been requesting for renegotiating the treaty as some of the provisions are considered not in interest of newly formed Federal Democratic Republic. The relationship nosedived after the 135 day unofficial trade blockade in 2015. Nepal has also pitched in for reworking the India-United Kingdom- Nepal trilateral treaty which facilitates Nepalese Gurkhas serving in Indian and British Armies.

The Kalapani issue, though old, gained prominence in November 2019 not only because of the release of maps by MEA after the creation of Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh but also due to by-elections in Nepal. The main opposition party, The Nepali Congress played up the issue to embarrass the Communist government.

The recent inauguration of the road to Lipulekh by India once again brought the ruling dispensation, marred by internal party bickering under tremendous pressure. The Nepal Communist party has not been able to endear itself to the common man despite the huge mandate it received in the 2017 elections due to the ongoing Oli- Dahal leadership feud. The Lipulekh issue, if handled properly, provides a good opportunity for the Communist government to gain favourable domestic opinion. Given these perceived benefits, the hasty deployment of Armed Police Force at Changru is more for optics than substance.

The China factor in Indo-Nepal ties has gained traction in the recent times. The close ties between the Communist parties from both sides have enhanced Chinese influence in Nepal tremendously. In spite of the professed Nepal policy of balanced relationship between the two neighbours, China has made deep inroads into the politics as well as economics in Nepal. China has also replaced India as the biggest FDI partner. Chinese Ambassador in Nepal played an active role in resolving the Communist Party internal power play recently.

Nepal remains a strategic priority for India. Disputes like Kalapani compounded with increasing Chinese influence have the potential to further fan anti- India sentiments in Nepal. The internationalising of the issue by Nepal does not augur well for India’s image and influence in South Asia. The issue also has the potential to become another pressure point for India given the Chinese interest and support to Nepal. It is in both the countries’ interest to resolve the issue bilaterally through talks at appropriate level.


Nepal-India Border Dispute now to a Newer Height

Maj Gen Binoj Basnyat (Retd)

Serious debates are on about the source of river Kali/Mahakali, which once settled will lead to resolution of the disputed “Area Kalapani”. KP Oli government has endorsed, distributed, and initiated the process to amend constitutional provisions of the updated political map inducting the disputed area on the North-western edge of the country.

The area is acknowledged to have strategic values for trade and transit, tourism, water and is militarily vital for both China and India. The South Asian region, customarily under the Indian political and security influence, is beginning to look a bit fractious. The Ministry of External Affairs of India stated recently “Nepal is well aware of India’s consistent position on this matter and we urge the Government of Nepal to refrain from such unjustified cartographic assertion and respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

There has been a downward spiral in Kathmandu-New Delhi diplomatic relations and political trust, and Nepal is eagerly seeking an early diplomatic dialogue. Nepal has been waiting for a dialogue after the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) sent a diplomatic note of displeasure to India’s MEA, subsequent to India’s publication of a fresh political map with new boundaries of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), UT Ladakh and the disputed area of Kalapani in Nov last year. The inauguration of the road which commenced in 2008, led to summoning the Indian Ambassador by the Foreign Minister of Nepal to issue a demarche. Bilateral talks between the foreign secretaries to resolve the contested area of Kalapani that lies at the strategic three-way junction are likely to get delayed due to preoccupation with Covid 19.

The launch of the 80 km Lipulekh road, the shortest route (a little over 400 km) between New Delhi and Kailash-Mansarovar, a revered Hindu pilgrimage site took place on 8th of May. The inauguration by India’s Defence Minister accompanied by high level defence officials caused discontentment amongst the ruling party and the opposition in Nepal. An all party meeting was convened by Prime Minister Oli to discuss the issue. Incidentally, the ruling NCP is also going through an in-house power struggle.

The Sugauli Treaty of 04 March 1816 between East India Company and the King of Nepal, signed after the Anglo-Nepal war, established the boundary between the two states. Area East of Mahakali River was retained by Nepal. Subsequently British Survey of India on 01 February 1827 showed ‘Area Kalapani’ within Nepal and the Kali River as the border with its source being Limpiyadhura. In 1981, a joint Technical Level Nepal-India Boundary Committee delineated 98 percent of the border, except Kalapani (400 sq km) at Nepal-China-India tri-junction and Susta (140 sq km) in southern Nepal. The map submitted for ratification in 2007 did not materialise due to Nepal’s stance of settling all border disputes including Kalapani and Susta.Mahakali Treaty with its source from the Kalapani area, the first bilateral water treaty signed between Nepal and India has not developed even after more than two decades.

The unofficial blockade by India in 2015, followed by the three level elections, and subsequent unity between United Marxist Leninist and Nepal Communist Party Maoists’ with anti-Indian oratory is also a considered factor in souring bilateral relations. The border dispute in the Kalapani region that falls between the two rivers surfaced after the 1990 reinstatement of democracy and took shape after the Indo-China trade agreement through Lipulekh Pass (signed) in 2015. Nepal’s Parliament objected to the treaty terming it as a tri lateral matter to both China and India. After more than a century and a half the dispute now has come with two premises on the origins of River Kali/Mahakali with Kathmandu claiming it to be from Limpiyadhura, the river to the West of Kalapani as the main Kali River and New Delhi as Lipulekh along the lines of the mountains Om Parvat to the East of the river.

The way forward of course is diplomatic dialogue.

Nepal and India hold a special relationship. The political relationship swings from time to time and elevates and depletes periodically. Two observations, however, are clear

  • First one is the admirable and favourable relationship that both the countries cherish. The 1990 restoration of democracy with an official blockade by India, King Gyanendra’s take over to transact with the Maoists menace, and the twelve point agreement that took place in Delhi followed by the peace process to bring the Maoists into the democratic framework are examples of three major political shifts in the recent history that has elevated the relationship. The relationship depleted and was at a low when India articulated its reservation on the 2015 constitution with an unofficial blockade and the current question of border encroachment by India The people in general are behind the NCP political manoeuvring, terming the border dispute as a nationalist movement.
  • The second is rise of China’s influence leading to geopolitical and geo-economic stimulus in the South Asian region. Militarisation of the Himalayas are an example of China’s interests being more political in defending the province of Xinjiang, Tibet and Yunnan. China may not have much concern for Maoism and communism at present, but it thinks more about Tibet to gesture to India that it too can invest in a long term policy. Any meddling in Tibet can be countered with meddling in Nepal.

The more India concentrates on smaller nations in its neighbourhood,the less can it concentrate on China!