By Anil Giri/Kathmandu Post
Kathmandu, May 23:With Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal all set to go to India at the end of May, officials on both sides are busy giving final touches to the visit’s agenda. Though preparations for Dahal’s first foreign trip since becoming prime minister on December 25 are in full swing, the two sides are yet to make a formal announcement of the date.
Foreign Minister NP Saud has already started consultations with former foreign ministers, foreign secretaries and former Nepali ambassadors to India. He is soliciting their views and ideas on what the prime minister should take up during his India visit and in his meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Sources said that Prime Minister Dahal will also seek suggestions from former prime ministers on his visit, but the schedule for his meetings are yet to be fixed.
Suggestions are pouring in from different sections to raise outstanding issues with India by building trust. There have also been suggestions that Nepal should forget the past and move to strengthen relations with India.
Addressing the Parliament on Sunday, former prime minister and CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli told Prime Minister Dahal to stand resolutely in favour of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura and asked him whether these pieces of land belong to Nepal or not. When Oli was the prime minister, Nepal had in May 2020 published a new map including the three areas, showing them as Nepali territories. Nepal’s move was in response to India’s unilateral decision to release a new Indian map by including the three territories within Indian borders.
“I advise the prime minister not to be cowardly and cold-hearted while visiting India,” Oli said. He doubted whether the current government can protect the country. “This government does not know whether Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura fall in the Nepali territory. The government has failed to incorporate the new map of Nepal in its policies and programmes. I advise the prime minister to speak frankly with the Indian leaders during his visit… on the problems we are facing as a result of the territorial disputes. So, do not maintain cold relations with the neighbours and don’t be a coward either. Coward souls and cold hearts will not give the solution.”
The government is also preparing a comprehensive agenda for the state visit where the prime minister will raise outstanding issues such as the boundary dispute, India’s acceptance of the report of the Eminent Persons’ Group on Nepal-India relations, air entry route, inundation, energy trade as well as the completion of the India-funded projects in Nepal. Nepal and India will also seek to explore new areas of cooperation.
“I do not think new issues will figure in the meeting,” former foreign minister Narayan Khadka said. “Rather, outstanding issues should be discussed and cleared, so that our relations progress smoothly.”
According to Khadka, Nepal should take up issues like boundary dispute, India’s refusal to accept the EPG report, trade, commerce, railway and an energy market in India.
“It would be good if India allows Nepal and Bangladesh to use its territory for energy trade. This trilateral energy cooperation would be good for all three sides,” Khadka said. “As the country is reeling under an economic crisis, it is also important to seek direct budgetary support for the country. Several Indian projects are commencing in Nepal and they should be completed in a timely manner. We should clear the air and move ahead.”
The prime minister’s visit is getting a lot of attention and leaders from different political parties are voicing their concerns about its outcome and Prime Minister Dahal’s possible talking points.
“The prime minister should speak up on the boundary dispute with India,” Chairman of the CPN (Unified Socialist) and former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal said in Parliament on Monday. “Without hesitation, the prime minister should make Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura the primary agenda of his India visit.”
Officials said that a slew of agreements on various sectors will be signed during the visit, including establishing a chemical fertiliser plant and several agreements on energy-related cooperation. They added that at least a dozen agreements and memoranda of understanding related to connectivity, infrastructure, energy and transmission and digital gateway will be signed.
“We have an unlimited number of issues to discuss,” Rajan Bhattarai, chief of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the UML, said. “It is up to the government to decide what to prioritise.”
“The government should work on removing the obstacles in our bilateral ties,” Bhattarai, who used to serve as the foreign relations adviser to then prime minister Oli, said. He also said that by prioritising Nepal’s issues, the country should settle its disputes with India and seek Indian support in dealing with the ongoing economic crisis and in reducing the ballooning trade deficit with the southern neighbour.
“We have to seek easy access for our agricultural products in the Indian market, just like the Indian products are getting access to the Nepali market without any hindrance,” Bhattarai said. “We have some issues left by history like boundary disputes that should be resolved too. If India does not receive the EPG report, its credibility will be questioned as India is seen as the new regional and global leader. Leaving such a dispute unresolved with a close neighbour like Nepal does not suit India.” Bhattarai was a member of the EPG panel, representing Nepal.
As matters stand, New Delhi is increasingly resistant to receiving the EPG report and is also not ready to hold talks on boundary disputes as of now.
An official at the prime minister’s office said Dahal will speak to his Indian counterpart on the issue of EPG, the boundary dispute and getting air entry routes via the Indian skies to the country’s two newly built international airports in Bhairahawa and Pokhara.
The official added matters cannot be resolved at the official and diplomatic levels without the two leaders holding discussions on specific topics. “The one-on-one between the two prime ministers is set for removing the obstacles in bilateral ties, so the prime minister should use his leverage during his meeting with Modi.”
“The Indian perspective is guided by the present context and future requirements,” said former foreign minister Ramesh Nath Pandey. “But Nepal wants to only dwell in the past.”
Pandey added, “We are talking about replacing the 1950 peace and friendship treaty and receiving the report of the EPG. But is the EPG report a magic stick that will resolve all differences between us? We are in the past. The prime minister is saying that his India visit would be historic. This kind of statement only increases public expectations.”
Pandey asked, “Won’t there be mistrust if the visit does not become historic?”
He added that Nepal needs to get rid of old burdens and march towards evaluating its future needs and requirements. “That will be the meeting point between Nepal and India in the changed context,” he said.