EDITORIAL: Unresolved issues

It would be in the best interest of both Nepal and India to resolve the boundary issue amicably

Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali returned home on Saturday after wrapping up his three-day visit to India, where he took part in the sixth Foreign Minister-Level Joint Commission meeting. But he could not hold meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the visit. It is a general tradition for a visiting foreign minister to pay a courtesy call to the PM of the host country during the joint commission meeting. When Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar arrived in Nepal to take part in the fifth meeting of the commission last year, he had paid a courtesy call on both President Bidhya Devi Bhandari and PM KP Oli. The diplomatic community in both the countries believes that the Indian PM avoided a meeting with Gyawali because of the unfolding political developments in Nepal following the dissolution of the House of Representatives here.

He, however, met with Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. Upon his arrival at the Tribhuvan International Airport, Gyawali told journalists that during the meeting with Singh, he held discussion on defence cooperation and boundary issues, including the Kalapani region occupied by India since the Indo-China war in 1960.

During the sixth Joint Commission meeting, the Nepali delegate had raised the boundary issue, including that of Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulek, where India has not only occupied them but has also built a road. India has also included them in its administrative and political map. The Indian move led Nepal to claim the territory as per the 1816 Sugauli Treaty. Nepal also included the region in its political and administrative map, which was endorsed by the federal parliament last year. The relation between the South Asian neighbours has remained frosty following the publication of the maps from both sides. Earlier, Nepal had already sent three diplomatic notes to India protesting the Indian move in the Kalapani region.

The India Foreign Minister is said to have told the Nepali delegate that the boundary issues will be resolved by a joint team of foreign secretaries.

At the end of the meeting, both Nepal and India issued two conflicting statements, with Nepal claiming the commission discussed “boundary and border management” issues, while the Indian side said they discussed only the “border management”. The Indian side mentioned nothing about the EPG (Eminent Persons Group) report, whereas the Nepal’s Foreign Ministry claimed to have discussed it during the meeting. The statement from the Indian side is a clear indication that it avoided discussing the Kalapani issue and EPG report. Despite the differences on these two key issues, the Indian side has expressed readiness to supply anti-COVID-19 vaccines, manufactured in India, to Nepal. But it is not clear when and in what quantity India will be supplying the vaccines to Nepal. Nepal also wants to purchase the vaccines directly from the manufacturing firm at the earliest so that they could be administered here at the earliest. India has already started vaccinating its population from Saturday. It would have been better if both the countries had launched the vaccination drive simultaneously, given the open border between the two countries. Nepal has already approved a drug developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.

Kudos to the Sherpas

Kudos to the 10 Nepalis, calling themselves the Sherpas, who have made Nepal and its citizens proud by scaling Mt. K2, the world’s second tallest peak Saturday afternoon, in the first ever winter ascent.

Although the 8,611 m peak lying in Pakistan’s Karakoram range is not a virgin peak, no attempt had been successful in winter, where winds are known to howl at 200 km per hour and temperatures could drop to minus 60 degrees Celsius. The 10 Sherpas were helping out with different expeditions on the mountain, but they came together so that their country, Nepal, could claim the first winter ascent.

Hundreds of alpinists come to Nepal every year to attempt various mountains, especially Everest and other Eight Thousanders, located here. Many of these expeditions would never have been a success were it not for the Sherpas who guide the members, some of whom are literally carried to the top. Yet the contribution of the Sherpas is neglected. It is indeed a pity that all of our tallest peaks were first scaled by foreigners.

It is time the sturdy Sherpas who make expeditions a success are given their due. Their legendary climbing skills are Nepal’s soft power, and we must learn to promote it.