Army Chief Naravane’s visit to Nepal will help reset strained ties, say experts

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November 01, 2020 2:26 PM

India has been sensitive to Nepal’s domestic politics as well as its economic needs, as it is landlocked and most of the supplies take place by roads through various checkpoints.

India had reacted sharply to the new map, and had cautioned Kathmandu that “artificial enlargement” of territorial claims won’t be acceptable. (File image: IE)

The Chief of Army Staff Army General MM Naravane will travel to Nepal on a three-day visit from November 4, 2020, in an effort to strengthen the overall ties between the two countries especially in the areas of defence and security. “Indian Army Chief, Gen MM Naravane’s visit to Nepal, though customary in nature, would create a favourable atmosphere for further dialogues in the coming months,” says Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU.

Importance of the visit

The visit comes amidst the ongoing tensions between India and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as well as strained ties with the Himalayan nation which had come published a new political map earlier this year in May which had projected several areas of Uttrakhand as part of its territory.

“Ever since the Madheshi blockade in 2015, the anti-India sentiment has been building up in that country. Nepal protested the inauguration of the road to Lipulekh in May and subsequently issued a new map claiming the territories of Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh. These territories have been under India’s control since 1950. They are of strategic importance due to their location near the China border and the presence of the Indian army in those regions. The road to Lipulekh also provides the shortest route to Indian pilgrimage to sacred Mount Kailash” explains Prof Rajan Kumar.

India & the Neighbourhood

With China expanding its influence in the neighbourhood, India has been making efforts to further its ties with countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka.

Recently, the Indian Army Chief Gen Naravane had travelled to Myanmar along with Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla. The focus of the visit was on deepening the military ties as well as handing over an attack submarine to the Myanmarese Navy.

From overall strategic perspective in the region, Nepal is very important for India. And the Himalayan nation depends on India for the transportation of goods and services, and for trade imports, through sea route, it relies on India.

What affected the Indo-Nepal ties?

It was soon after the inauguration of an 80-km-long strategically crucial road in May which was connecting the Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand. Nepal had not only protested the inauguration, it came out with a new map where Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura were marked as its territories.

India had reacted sharply to the new map, and had cautioned Kathmandu that “artificial enlargement” of territorial claims won’t be acceptable.

The Lipulekh pass which was inaugurated is located at the far western point near Kalapani and is a disputed border area between the two countries. Kalapani is considered as part of Uttrakhand in India and in Nepal, it is considered as part of Dharchula district.

The Agenda of the visit

He is visiting Nepal at the invitation of General Purna Chandra Thapa, Chief of the Army staff, Nepali Army.

Besides paying homage at the martyr’s memorial in the Army Pavilion, he will hold office meeting with his Nepali counterpart and address the student officers at the Army Command and Staff College, Shivapuri.

He will be conferred the rank of an honorary General of the Nepali Army, by the President of Nepal Bidya Devi Bhandari at a ceremony in Kathmandu. This is as per a tradition which was started in 1950.

As has been reported by Financial Express Online, the Indian Army chief will also be meeting with the Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli well as the Defence minister.

Experts’ Views

Prof Rajan Kumar says, “South Asia is emerging a hotbed of geopolitical rivalry between China and India. China pursues it agenda by nurturing a section of political and academic elite loyal to its BRI programmes. Smaller states of South Asia fall prey to prospects of big investments from China. It would be naïve to believe that Chinese interests are benign, guided solely by economic considerations.”

“Beijing takes advantage of fragmented politics and rivalry among the political parties in South Asia. It tried to influence regimes in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bangladesh. In recent months, it sought to intervene in the internal rivalry of Nepal Communist Party. There is a perception that Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli took a hard stance against India at the behest of Beijing,” Prof Rajan opines.

According to the JNU Professor “Nepal, instead of negotiating with the Indian counterparts, decided to issue a new map at a time when Indian army was caught in a prolonged standoff with the Chinese army at the Ladakh border. This fuelled the existing suspicion in New Delhi that Kathmandu took provocative measures under the influence of Beijing. It became a serious concern owing to the deteriorating relationship, breakdown of communication and rising mistrust between the two countries.”

In conclusion Prof Rajan says, “However, it would be wrong to assume that Nepal has become a proxy of China. Nepal has had long historical ties with India. It understands the value of its economic and cultural ties and is willing to restore normalcy in its relationships with India. Attracting investments from China is an economic compulsion for Nepal, and it should not be interpreted as a sign of its alliance against India.”

Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd), says, “India and Nepal are two countries who have many commonalities than differences. The differences if any are due to political compulsions of pleasing the local vote bank and at times by the benevolence of countries giving vital monetary aid to a cash-starved economy.”

India has been sensitive to Nepal’s domestic politics as well as its economic needs, as it is landlocked and most of the supplies take place by roads through various checkpoints.

“Secretary R&AW visited Nepal as the Prime Minister’s emissary to bring the relationship back on track and had meetings with the Nepalese Prime Minister and the Defence Minister.

The Indian Army Chief’s visit is to further strengthen the relationship at the Military level also. Indian Army has a large number of ex-servicemen, Madheis’s and a large number of Indian origin citizens who are now Nepalese citizens but have family in India too. The interest of this large diaspora should be our main focus who are ambassadors at the ground level to keep the relationship on track,” Lt Col Channan says.

“Nepal remains a buffer between Tibet Autonomous Region under Chinese occupation and it’s best to be a pillar of support to a nascent democracy and an economy that needs the support of India and its industry.

The need for the hour is to focus on India’s neighbourhood and counter the Chinese influence which is like the mythological ogre that eats everything in its path,” the Indian army veteran opines.

“It would be great if the visit of the Indian Army Chief is followed up by the EAM and political leadership to keep the Chinese at bay. This is a window of opportunity for India to strengthen its relationships with its neighbourhood.

Care needs to be taken that it shouldn’t be a one shoe fits all, as each has a different dynamics of its own,” he concludes.

Speaking at a webinar recently, former Indian Army officer and Assam Rifles director general Lt Gen Shokin Chauhan said, “Both the countries have a shared history, geography, culture and water.” Nepal and India have a shared history, shared geography shared culture, and shared water.”

While noting that the military diplomacy has been the bedrock of bilateral ties, according to Lt Gen Shokin Chauhan, “The Indian Army had helped reorganise the Nepali Army in the 1950s. This was after Communist China’s Mao Zedong threatened Nepal’s sovereignty by calling it to be part of the five fingers of China that need to be reunited with the mainland.”

The Indian Army veteran was speaking at a webinar on ‘Nepal-India Strategic Convergence: Enriching the Partnership’ which was organised by Delhi-based think-tank Law and Society Alliance and Defence.Capital, a strategic affairs publication, earlier this week.

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