KATHMANDU, Oct 24: As Indian President prepares to visit Nepal after a hiatus of almost two decades, former diplomats and experts in Kathmandu see this as reflection of New Delhi's desire to improve 'troubled' relations between Nepal and India.
They also expressed optimism that the visit scheduled to take place in two weeks could prove instrumental in bridging the 'deficit of trust' between the two countries and create conducive environment to expedite a large number of bilateral projects stalled for years. “Although the visit is a ceremonial one, this assumes special importance as this comes after a long gap. New Delhi seems to have a desire to improve relations with Kathmandu through the high-level visit,” said former Foreign Secretary Madhu Raman Acharya.
Various factors including the recent protests by Madhesis in which New Delhi tacitly supported their border blockade have caused the relationship between the two countries to sour. Acharya, who also served Ambassador at Nepal's Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, expressed optimism that the visit could help create conducive environment to expedite implementation of various stalled projects between the two countries.
If everything goes as planned, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee is arriving in Kathmandu on November 2 on a three-day state visit. This comes after the then Indian President K R Narayanan visited Nepal in 1997.
“The visit of Indian president fills a long-felt gap in the field of high-level exchanges between our two countries. As there have been high-level visits only from the Nepali side for a long time now, it is a positive sign that Indian side is also reciprocating,” argued Dr Nishchal Nath Pandey, who is the head of Kathmandu-based think-tank Center for South Asian Studies.
India has increased intensity of engagement with Nepal especially after the relations between Kathmandu and New Delhi soured in the aftermath of the economic blockade against Nepal last year. Mukherjee's scheduled visit comes after Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal visited India twice in a matter of a month.
Although meetings of various important bilateral mechanisms including the Joint Commission (JC) and the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) have been taking place on a regular basis, there has not been much progress in the implementation of projects agreed between the two countries. “We can expect the visit to help bridge the deficit of trust that exists between Kathmandu and New Delhi for some time now and bring back our unique relations on track,” said former ambassador and foreign relations advisor to the former Prime Minister Sushil Koirala Dr Dinesh Bhattarai.
Experts in Kathmandu also see India's latest overtures to increase intensity of engagements with Nepal as the realization of its mistake during the economic blockade last year but also as an attempt by New Delhi to reclaim strategic influence that is fast eroding in its neighborhood including in Nepal.