Nepal proposes early convening of BWG meeting as India appears less receptive to resolve outstanding border disputes

Published On: November 20, 2023 09:30 AM NPT By: Sajira Shrestha

KATHMANDU, Nov 20: Nepal has formally proposed with India a meeting of the Boundary Working Group (BWG) to address the longstanding issue of border disputes. The BWG, established jointly by the two countries in 2014, focuses on resolving technical issues related to the border conflicts.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has confirmed the dispatch of a letter to the Indian government suggesting an early convening of the BWG meeting. However, details about the proposed date and India's response remain undisclosed at this point.

During the second session of the Federal Parliament, Nepali Congress MP Dilendra Prasad Badu sought an update on the diplomatic initiative concerning the Kalapani, Lipulek, and Limpiyadhura border issues. In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasized that diplomatic efforts are underway to resolve the disputes.

The foreign ministry clarified that continuous efforts are being made to resolve the outstanding border disputes through negotiations at the diplomatic level.

The BWG, initially formed in 2014 during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Kathmandu, was designed to address border-related technical tasks. The BWG is a joint body constituted by the governments of Nepal and India in 2014 to carry out works in the fields of construction, restoration and repair of boundary pillars including clearance of ‘no-man’s land’ and other technical tasks. 

However, there has been a massive change in the geopolitical landscape since then, with both countries issuing new political maps in 2019 and 2020 respectively, leading to heightened tensions.

According to Associate Professor at the Kathmandu University School of Arts Dr Uddhab Pyakurel, the formation of the BWG in 2014 took place in different contexts while things and situations have changed a lot after that. “During the formation of the BWG, there were no bigger border issues and there was the plan to address the border disputes in Kalapani and Susta,” said Pyakurel, who keeps a close tab on bilateral issues between Nepal and India. “However, things have turned different after India issued a new political map in November 2019 and Nepal did the same on May 18 the following year.” 

After India published a new political map showing Kalapani as a part of Uttarakhand State in November 2019, the government of Nepal also unveiled the new political map by incorporating Kalapani, Lipulekh and Lipuyadhura on May 18, 2020. India’s inauguration of a new road from Dharchula to Lipulekh on the Mansarovar route in May 2020 is also seen as a provocation for Nepal to publish a new map. 

The last meeting of the BWG was held in Dehradun, India from August 28 to 30 in 2019. According to the MoFA, diplomatic initiatives are currently underway to hold another round of negotiations.

Despite Nepal's formal requests for boundary discussions since November 2019, there is a perception in Nepal that India, under the centralized authority of the Prime Minister's Office, has been less responsive to meeting requests. India maintains that appropriate conditions must be established before engaging in dialogue.

Meanwhile, foreign affairs expert Pyakurel mentioned that the reason for India neglecting the BWG meeting is that this committee was formed to address old issues. However, after Nepal claimed Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Lipuyadhura as its territory, the border disputes reached new heights. "We cannot expect the old committee to address the new issues. Currently, both countries stake claim on Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Lipuyadhura, and as this is a more significant issue waiting for India's response in the BWG meeting does not hold much significance,” he said.

Pyakurel believes that it is high time to form a new committee or group that would hold necessary discussions to solve the border issues. “As both countries have staked their claims over the disputed land, the situation is even more sensitive. Therefore, I believe that if both countries want to address the issue, a new group or committee should be formed and discussions should be held accordingly.” 

Earlier, reiterating that the Government of Nepal would not accept any unilateral decision, a press release was promptly issued when India published a map incorporating Nepali territory. Diplomatic correspondence ensued with the Indian side on various dates. As per Article 5 of the Sugauli Treaty of 1816, all territories, including Limpiyadhu, Kalapani, and Lipulek, situated east of the Kali (Mahakali) River, are recognized as that of Nepal. Nepal expressed opposition to the political map released by the Government of India, which included these territories.

On November 20, 2019, Nepal dispatched a diplomatic note to the Government of India, urging an immediate correction of the map. But there was no response from the Indian side.

Dr Indra Adhikari, a board member of the Nepal Policy Institute, views the act of Nepal sending a letter and India disregarding it as a commonplace situation. "Both countries lay claims to the disputed land. The BWG group, being a technical committee with bureaucrats as members, may not be effective in resolving the sensitive border issue. Agreement at a political level is essential," added Dr Adhikari, who also served as deputy director of the Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA).

Since November 2019, the border disputes have escalated to new heights, making it impractical to address these issues solely through a working committee. Political resolutions at the level of the prime minister are imperative, according to Dr Adhikari.

Earlier, MoFA mentioned that during his visit to India from April 1 to 3 in 2022, the then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba urged the Indian side to address the issues related to the border through a bilateral mechanism. This issue was also discussed when the incumbent Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal visited India from May 31 to June 3 in 2023.

Prime Minister Dahal also urged the Indian side to address the issue related to the border through a bilateral mechanism. At that time, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to solve all the existing problems including the border issues. “We will keep working to take our relationship to the height of the Himalayas. And in this spirit, we will solve all issues, be they boundary related or any other issue,” Modi had said.

Prior to that, the issue was also discussed in the sixth meeting of the mechanism of foreign ministers of Nepal and India. The meeting of foreign minister-level bilateral mechanism held in New Delhi discussed resolving the border problems at the earliest.

Chief of the Foreign Affairs Department of CPN-UML Dr Rajan Bhattarai mentioned that while it is mandatory for a country to address the border issue with its neighbor keeping in view of its sensitivity, India has displayed the wrong attitude by ignoring Nepal’s call for discussion. 

“Nepal is currently grappling with numerous internal issues, including an economic recession that has hindered the government's ability even to pay salaries to its employees. Amidst these challenges, there is a perception in India that Nepal is unable to assert a strong presence,” he said, adding, “The message conveyed is that Nepal's actions, such as sending letters, are merely symbolic, and it is acceptable to overlook this situation.”

Dr Bhattarai, who is also one of the members of Eminent Persons Group (EPG), emphasized the need for Nepal to persistently raise the border issue. "The resolution of the border issue is not something that can be resolved overnight. This will require a considerable amount of time given its sensitive nature for both countries. Even when discussions are initiated, they are expected to be prolonged. In our case, India has yet to commence the discussion,” he said.

Dr Bhattarai further said that the boundary issue is an issue of national concern, and it is crucial to raise this issue at the national level. “This requires unity among the government, political parties, and the general populace. It's time for a collective effort to demonstrate our unity in protecting our land,” he added.

Former Ambassador of Nepal to India, Nilambar Acharya, emphasized the importance of Nepal viewing India as a friend and openly addressing all its queries and concerns. "While India may be more developed and larger in size and population compared to Nepal, it is crucial to remember that no country is inherently superior or inferior. Mutual respect should be maintained. Therefore, our government should recognize the need to engage in open bilateral talks with India concerning border issues," he said.

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