DPM and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa and members of the Eminent Persons’ Groups from Nepal & India pose for group photo during the the inaugural session of Nepal-India Eminent Persons’ Group meeting at Kathmandu on Monday.(Dipesh Shrestha/Republica)
KATHMANDU, July 5: As the first meeting of the Eminent Persons' Group (EPG) from Nepal and India began in Kathmandu on Monday, the much talked-about Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 was entered as part of its agenda.
EPG members from Nepal introduced issues related to the treaty on the first day of the two-day meeting, during the general discussions on bilateral agreements and arrangements between the two countries.
"Members from Nepal introduced the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 as an issue to be discussed within the EPG along with overall issues of bilateral relations," said Yadav Khanal, executive director of the EPG Secretariat in Kathmandu.
"Both sides are ready to discuss whether the treaty needs to be amended or scrapped," he added.
However, Khanal claimed that the first meeting didn't enter into discussions on any specific treaty or agreement.
During the meeting, Nepali members drew the attention of Indian colleagues toward building trust between the two countries in the context of their latest misunderstandings.
"The discussions took place on a positive note. The introductory meeting also discussed all aspects of Nepal-India relations. The meeting will discuss setting a time-table for completing the broader tasks of the EPG within a twoyear timeframe," said Khanal.
This is the first time in 69 years of their bilateral relations that the two countries have formally started discussing necessary measures to replace, update, or scrap bilateral treaties, including the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950.
The Indian side of the Eminent Persons' Group, formed in February, is led by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party leader Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, and includes former Indian ambassador to Nepal Jayant Prasad, Prof. Mahendra P Lama and Prof. BC Upreti. Likewise, the Nepali side, formed in January, is led by former minister and ambassador Bhekh Bahadur Thapa and includes former ambassador Nilamber Acharya, former secretary and chief commissioner of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority Surya Nath Upadhyaya and CPN-UML lawmaker Rajan Bhattarai.
An agreement on establishing the EPG was reached in 2011 and the two countries agreed to prepare its Terms of Reference in 2014, when Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was in Kathmandu to attend a meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Commission.
Addressing the opening session of the fist meeting, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Kamal Thapa said that the EPG meeting would be the beginning of a new chapter in the process of making relations between the two countries stronger, more forward looking and more progressive.
"The global order and situation including of Nepal and India's standing in the world today has become different in comparison to that of the 1950s. We can't ignore the changing dynamics of relationship. The treaties, agreements and arrangements that guided our relations in the then context might require appropriate revision to deal with the needs of the present time," said Thapa.
"There might be necessity of new ideas and approach to give our relations more appropriate course in order to create better understandings and enhancing mutual prosperity, peace and harmony. It was with these realizations that the EPG was established," he added.
Thapa also said that intermittent issues between the two countries and governments must not lead either side to actions that are unwarranted and impact people's daily lives adversely.
"Nepal and India have been enjoying the best of relations from time immemorial. Throughout history these relations have remained cordial and friendly. However, having said these, I must accept that, though rare, there are instances of hiccups in these relations," said Thapa.
"At times, differences and misunderstandings or even feelings of suspicion arise between us. Without any obvious reason, sometimes, the smooth relations suddenly face odd moments. I think this is not unnatural for friends whose relations are so extensive and multidimensional," he added.
Speaking at the opening session, Indian EPG chair Koshiyari said that the expert panel will discuss what should be the political relations between the two countries in the context of shared social and cultural relations.
"I can enjoy worshiping at Pashupatinath as mush as Nilambar Acharya (Nepal's EPG member) enjoys and he can enjoy worshiping Rishikesh as mush as I can. On the other hand, if we talk about Singhadurbar in the same way, the relation begins to turmoil there. However, Nepal and India does not have that relation," Koshiyari said summarizing the bilateral relations.
Mentioning that Nepal is in a transitional phase and in need of stability, Koshiyari said that the Indian government led by Narendra Modi wants Nepal to be the happiest country in the world in terms of gross happiness index.
"Indian government always wants to strengthen the relation with Nepal," he said.
Nepal's EPG chair Bhekh Bahadur Thapa said that the meeting will help update and enhance the relations between the two countries.