The Indian Army chief General MM Naravane’s visit to Nepal must serve as an opportunity to reset ties with the Himalayan country and arrest the slide in the bilateral relationship. A flurry of back-channel conversations had set the tone for Naravane’s meeting with Nepalese Prime Minister KP Oli, a development that is expected to break the ice and mend fences. The age-old friendly relationship between the two neighbours has been on the downslide in recent times over a plethora of issues, including revival of border dispute. The pro-China tilt of the coalition Communist government, headed by Oli, has made matters worse with Beijing seeking to fish in the troubled waters. Upset over Kathmandu’s unilateral move to publish a new map claiming certain Indian territories as its own, New Delhi had put on hold bilateral talks earlier this year. The ties came under strain after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an 80-km-long strategically crucial road connecting the Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand in May. Nepal had protested the inauguration of the road claiming that it passed through its territory. Days later, Nepal came out with the new map showing Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura as its territories. Nepal Parliament’s approval of the new political map was seen as a violation of the understanding reached between the Prime Ministers of the two countries in the past to resolve boundary issues through talks. There was also an attempt to whip up ultra-nationalistic emotions by invoking the anti-India card.
Both India and Nepal claim Kalapani as an integral part of their territory – India as part of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district and Nepal as part of Dharchula district. However, bound by cultural affinity, the Indo-Nepal relations are strong enough to overcome such hiccups. Moreover, the ties between the two armies are a fundamental pillar which is based on history, contemporary partnership and symbolic respect. The Indian and Nepali army chiefs are honorary generals of each other’s armies and there is deep camaraderie between the senior and retired officers of both armies. The presence of Nepali citizens in the Indian Army is a remarkable testament to the trust between the two countries. Kathmandu always looked up to India in the past, be it during civil unrest or the peacetime. The role New Delhi played in restoring democracy in the Himalayan kingdom is widely acknowledged and appreciated. The military channel between the two countries has remained strong and unaffected by the fluctuations in political equations. The Army chief’s visit is seen as part of a larger exercise by New Delhi to rejuvenate relations with Myanmar, Maldives, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan in the wake of growing Chinese influence in the region.
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