‘We are for resolution through bilateral talks. But if one side does not respect the other, then this incident may prove very costly’
Nepal, a country which has a glorious history of independence since ancient age, is at present urging its southern neighbour, India, not to infringe on its territory.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, speaking on May 19 from the rostrum of the Federal Parliament, proposed to India to resolve the border issue through diplomatic dialogue and also declared that Nepal would present itself in the talks on the issue on the basis of facts and evidence.
Nepal, a geographically small nation which has never been a colony of any country and India, which became independent from British colonial rule in 1947, have cordial relations since long as well as several problems between them.
Nepal has faced encroachment and interference from the Indian side at various border areas. The people of India who have experienced foreign colonialism know well that sovereignty and territorial integrity is supremely important to others as is for their country. However, this feeling is lacking in some people of the Indian establishment.
India has continued its encroachment and high-handedness in Susta, Maheshpur, Limpiyadhura, Kalapani, among other areas of Nepal that share borders with it. The Nepali people have protested this from time to time. The traditional cordial ties between the two South Asian neighbours have been harmed after India first released its political map including the Nepali land Lipulek, Limpiyadhura and Kalapani within its border and recently inaugurated a road that it had unilaterally constructed from Pithoragadh to Lipulek via Nepali territory.
Nepal on May 20 endorsed a new map including these areas and made it public after India prevaricated Nepal’s repeated requests to seek solution to such issues by holding talks at the diplomatic level. India has expressed its ‘objection’ to this move taken by Nepal.
In this context, Executive Chairman of Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS), Shyamal Adhikari and Senior Reporter Prakash Silwal talked to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Ishwor Pokhrel. Here’s the excerpt of the interview:
The government has been criticized for not taking initiatives from its side to stop India even when it constructed a road in Nepal’s territory and inaugurated it. Can you tell whatever the government did in that connection so that the Nepali people would be convinced?
I want to remind here the fact that for the first time in history the present government had written an official letter to the Government of India saying Nepali land at the Nepal-India border region has been encroached and this should be stopped. We have raised this topic on the basis of the historical facts, proof and treaties available to us. We have issued the new map of Nepal on the basis of this. An incident in which Nepal becoming compelled to send a diplomatic note that India has infringed on Nepali land like this shows the attitude and tendency of our closest neighbour.
Don’t you think that this initiative came late?
The Government of Nepal had expressed its objection to the bilateral understanding between India and China regarding construction of a road in that area. It is but natural not to have proper information on time regarding the desirable and undesirable activities taking place in that area owing to the lack of physical infrastructures, the geographical remoteness, adverse weather and lack of communication means. In the meantime, it is found that India has opened up the track of the road linking Mansarovar of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. And, the Indian Defence Minister was seen inaugurating it from Delhi itself.
The present government had proposed talks with India on the matter by sending a diplomatic note to the Government of India immediately after it issued its new political and administrative map on November 2 last year. The Indian side’s tendency of intimidation and of not becoming mindful of a neighbour’s sensitivity has been seen even after that. India sought to take advantage of the remote geography of the border area and of the weakness related to the absence of Nepal’s administrative presence there. It is in this context we again expressed our objection and urged India to come to talks after news came that the Indian Defence Minister inaugurated the road in that area.
You had undertaken an on-site visit to Darchula only a few months back. What was the situation at that time? What initiation did you take after returning to Kathmandu from there?
I went to Darchula on February 16 and 17. I reached there with the people’s representatives from the district and the Nepali Army officials looking after border for taking stock of the situation at the sensitive and encroached land at the border there. We could not get to the border and important places in the area as per the visit itinerary due to heavy snowfall. So, it was not possible to acquire detail information about the Indian side’s constructing road there to connect up to Manasarovar.
I had briefed the Prime Minister about the ground reality that I saw and found there after I returned. My visit has further helped to ensure the immediate works that need to be done from the government’s side. As a result, we have set up the border outpost (BOP) of the Armed Police Force at Chhangru of Darchula. A new revised political and administrative map of Nepal has been issued.
Now, serious political and diplomatic initiatives have to be immediately pursued on the basis of the combined force based on common and unified stance of the political forces of the entire nation as well as of historical facts and evidences. Infrastructure development and comprehensive security plan needs to be implemented in that area. Especially, it is utterly necessary to construct 87 kilometres road from the Darchula district headquarters up to Tinkar Bhanjyang. My visit to Darchula was also in connection to construction of this road.
In the context of the meeting of the Council of Ministers giving the responsibility of constructing this road to the Nepali Army, funds would be allocated in the next fiscal year’s budget for the construction of this road with priority and the construction works would be started accordingly.
The village called Chhangru is located at a strategically important point leading to Limpiyadhura, Lipulek and Kalapani areas. Going leftwards from this village one gets to these areas while going towards right one reaches to Tinkar Bhanjyang and from there up to Taklakot. Although construction of a 87-kilometre road from the district headquarters to Tinkar Bhanjyang had been started in 2065 BS, it could not move ahead. I had visited Darchula before a decision was made to give to the Nepali Army the responsibility of constructing that proposed road at a time when even the contract for the construction of this road considered very difficult was not coming by.
Isn’t it time the government established border security posts at the border beyond Chhangru now? What would be the role of Nepal Army in this?
Infrastructures should be developed and security arrangements made at these places. We had reached to the conclusion when we were there as well that permanent posts of security bodies including the Nepali Army should be kept there and temporary posts should be immediately kept at other paces lying in the Nepali territory.
At what distance the Army should be stationed from the border would be done as per the constitutional provision. The main thing is that the entire Nepali nation is one at present regarding Nepal’s ownership rights over Limpiyadhura, Lipulek and Kalapani. Development works and works of broader security are required in that area. In future, we might have to develop these areas into an extended protected area as well.
Nepal can establish its claim over its territories and protect its borders on the basis of historical facts, evidences and the united resolve of national forces. This resolve is also expressed in the government’s policy and programmes the President presented in the Parliament. The government is committed to protect its land.
Given how aggressive some section of Indian intellectuals and media sector have become in relation to the border issue, may not be to that extent, but shouldn’t Nepal defend it in an organized way and mobilize our communications channel and the academic sector?
The Indian media has stood against Nepal in a superficial manner. This will also tarnish and pollute the Indian society. In fact the media there seems to represent the character of the State. We may also have some shortcomings in this regard.
We suffered significant damage in terms of consolidating our nationality, also because of the long instability. We just started our journey of stability. We have to work in an organized manner. If the government has some shortcomings then it should have been asked to correct it, instead the notion that a new government can be formed as this one has completed two years is being promoted. Hence, we need to make the communications channel of the State more effective and stronger to wipe out such illusion and disseminate the facts.
Why has there been no comment from our side so far in relation to the condemnable statement made by the Indian Chief of Army Staff about Nepal?
We have been proposing to resolve the problem through diplomatic dialogue. In the meantime, comments from the Indian state side are seen to have come in an embarrassing manner. Such statements are objectionable for a prideful Nepal. The world knows, Nepal has never been subdued in world history. It would not be virtuous to blame such a nation of acting for being incited by others. No matter what background and circumstance is it based on, such statements are an effort to offend sovereign and independent Nepal and prideful Nepalis. This is condemnable. Such statement is an insulting statement made by ignoring Nepal’s history, our social characteristics and freedom. With this, the Indian CoAS has also hurt the sentiments of the Nepali Gurkha army personnel who lay down their lives to protect India. It must now become difficult for them to stand tall in front of the Gurkha forces. They will also tell them that Nepali people speak from their heart and don’t need to be provoked to speak out.
In fact, the statement by the Indian CoAS seems to be a political stunt. How professional is it for the head of the Army to make a political statement? We don’t have anything like that here. Nepali Army does not go vocal on such matter. Army is not there to speak. Nepali Army is a fully professional military force. It would definitely play its role in the right time, as per the directives of the government based on our Constitution.
Our army is deputed and mobilized in the responsibility entrusted by the government as guided by the Constitution. If needed, it will fight. We are fully confident over the ability, integrity and professionalism of our national army. And not only the army, friends must understand that given the situation all the Nepali people are soldiers of the nation. We are well aware about the comments made with the intention of dragging the Nepali Army into a dispute, by saying that it did not respond on the matter. Some elements also seem to say that the Nepali Army should be mobilized to capture the territory but we have to act with patience and perseverance. India is our friendly state. The lost Nepali territory must be returned through peaceful political dialogue and through diplomatic channel, and I am confident that it is possible.
The Government seems to have prepared the new map, but made it public late while waiting for diplomatic talks. And now that the map has been made public, is it that the diplomatic talks have been postponed for later?
We wanted to publish the map in a matured and justified manner. And, yes we were looking forward to having a dialogue for it. But we did not receive any immediate positive response to the communication we sent.
We are for resolution through bilateral talks. But if one side does not respect the other, then this incident may prove very costly. His statement that it was unexpected of Nepal to have become agitated over the road constructed west of Kali river seems to have come not as a bilateral issue with Nepal but in the international political context of India. In fact, Limpiyadhura is the origin of Kali river, and not Lipulek. I don’t think India does not understand this history and geographical fact. As a result, the territory east of Kali river belongs to Nepal, it belongs to us. The territory west from the river falls in India, and we don’t claim it.
How is our preparation for talks with India?
We are ready with historical facts and evidences. They may have been some shortcomings in similar talks held in the past on many occasion and in international treaties and agreements. Some things may have been missed out, but as far as our border with India is concerned, nobody can deny the historical facts and evidence that we hold. The nation is united on this matter. As a close and friendly state of Nepal, India should give a positive response. It should not hurt the Nepali sentiment.
Like any other country, we too have our strengths and weaknesses. There is no comparison in terms of size or preparation. Nepal is Nepal and India is India. We don’t bow before anyone on matters of freedom and independence. We will put forth everything in clear terms in the dialogue. Such a dialogue will be held not based on mind matters but with facts and evidences. And we have sufficient ground for it. As I said earlier, we will now focus our attention in infrastructure and development in the bordering region of Darchula. We will put to end the unfortunate state of having to travel via foreign land to reach to our own territory. We will work towards fulfilling the needs of the people there.
In this context, have you not had a dialogue with your counterpart, the Indian Defense Minister?
Lately, I have not had a dialogue with my Indian counterpart. He has invited me to visit India, I have also invited him for a visit to Nepal. Prime Minister Oli and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been talking to one another in one way or the other. As the Prime Minister said in the parliament, whether India wants ‘truth to prevail’, we should be sitting for a dialogue on the same premise at different levels.
We donot want Nepal to become a nation locked with any particular country only, but a land-linked country with transportation and transit with all. We want to equip our state agencies with technology and machinery. And, I reiterate that Nepali Army is a professional army. It does not give out political statements. This is associated with Nepal’s unification and national self-pride. Any political conspiracy to weaken it will not be successful. We are in the quest for the victory of truth.
‘Satyamewa Jayate’, i.e. Truth shall prevail.