Lipu Lekh: The past, present and future of the Nepal-India confrontation | Analysis – analysis
Two of the world’s closest neighbors, India and Nepal, are locked in a cartographic, diplomatic and, to some extent, political confrontation. The dispute is over the ownership of nearly 330 km2 of land called Kalapani, near Nepal’s triple western union with India and China.
The dispute was sparked in November 2019 when India issued a new map to indicate the changed state of Jammu and Kashmir on Union territory. Nepal objected because the Kalapani area was shown to be in India. Indian maps have always shown it this way; therefore, there were no changes to the map. This was followed by Nepal’s objections to the inauguration of a road from Darchula to the Lipu Lekh Pass, aimed at strengthening India’s defense supply lines, as well as facilitating the smooth passage for pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet. . Nepal said this path is an invasion of its sovereignty. There have been street protests, parliament has rioted, and now the Nepalese government has released its map showing Kalapani as its territory. New Delhi has reiterated that the area belongs to India and would be ready to resolve the dispute through diplomatic negotiations after the coronavirus disease crisis ends (Covid-19).
Nepal’s claims are rooted in the Sugauli Treaty signed with the British in March 1816. In this, Nepal renounced “all claims or connections (as in the original text) with countries west of the river Kali … “(Art. V). The land east of the Kali remained so with Nepal. This claim is reinforced by some old income records and gazette notifications.
India accepts this position, but its claim arises from the ambiguity in the treaty on the identification of the Kali river and its origin. According to India, the river originates from Lipu Lekh and then merges with other streams and tributaries to become the Mahakali. Nepal’s argument is that Kali originates from Limpiyadhura and the stream that originates from Lipu Lekh is called Lipu Khola. Hence the dispute. The area between these two streams is Kalapani. The treaty underwent some revisions to accommodate Nepal in Terai (southern part) and was finally approved by the British government on November 15, 1860.
Maps issued by the British between 1816 and 1860 generally favor the Nepalese position. But, the maps issued then back up India’s position. The British administration may have changed this position through appropriate polls or subsequently decided to manipulate this position, to serve its broader strategic and commercial interests in using the Lipu Lekh pass to access Tibet. Independent India received access to Kalapani and Lipu Lekh by the British.
Blaming India for any intrusion is baseless. It should be noted that long before the British, or the Gurkha kings annexed the Kumaon and Garhwal regions, and then surrendered under the Treaty of Sugauli, the Indians used this route for the pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar. The route has deep spiritual and civilizing significance for India. China accepted Lipu Lekh as one of the cultural and commercial transit points with India under its 1954 Peaceful Coexistence Agreement. This was reiterated in 2015 in a joint statement during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China.
Nepal has supported India’s position for almost 150 years. He used Indian maps showing Kalapani, Limpiyadhura, and Lipu Lekh in India. Objections to this were raised in the 1980s, but were ignored by royal regimes. Since 2000, the two surveyed the length of their limit to solve outstanding problems, except in two areas, including Kalapani. It is mutually agreed that these problems will be resolved through diplomatic negotiations.
Why then did the government of Nepal raise the temperature on the Kalapani issue? Prime Minister KP Oli faces serious internal opposition at this time, including from within his ruling Communist Party of Nepal. This is mainly due to its governance failures and lack of action to combat the pandemic. It consolidated its nationalist image since 2015 by fighting against India’s ill-advised diplomatic intervention on the subject of the constitution and the counterproductive economic coercion (partial economic blockade) that followed. Perhaps he hopes that this confrontation with India in Kalapani will give him a new lease on life in politics.
The strategic community in India understands that Nepal is also being pushed by China to get India out of Kalapani. The indirect reference to Indian Army chief general MM Navrane at a conference of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis can be recalled here. This appears to conflict with China’s endorsement of the Indian position in 1954 and 2015. However, China is rarely directly diplomatic. He is not happy with India’s increasing strategic proximity to the United States. It has also opposed projects to improve India’s defense infrastructure along the border. The Darchula-Lipu Lekh highway is one of those projects. Popping India and alienating Kathmandu from New Delhi serves China’s broader purpose. This explains why he is playing an active role in preserving the unity of the Communist Party of Nepal and in protecting the Oli regime.
The prolongation of this confrontation benefits neither Nepal nor India. It will be exploited by third parties in your favor. India and Nepal, taking into account their mutual interests and concerns, should resolve this through robust and mutually accommodating diplomacy.
SD Muni is Professor Emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru University and a former Ambassador.
The opinions expressed are personal.