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Crash-Landed!

Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura… Nepal has recently claimed these three strategically important Indian territories as its part, with the National Assembly of the Himalayan Nation passing a controversial Bill on its updated political-administrative map! Kathmandu has also decided to set up an Army base near Kalapani. For India, all these decisions of its tiny neighbour are reckless and surprising. New Delhi has condemned Kathmandu’s move, saying in a statement that Nepal’s attempt to artificially extend its border is inconsistent and objectionable. However, it seems that the Government of Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli has decided to take a calculative risk!

Oli’s intension is clear: to serve his own political interests. Despite enjoying absolute power immediately after becoming the PM on February 15, 2018, PM Oli started facing some bitter issues. Earlier, a Chinese diplomat helped him overcome a crisis when he got involved in arguments with his two (Communist Party of Nepal) colleagues – Pushpa Kamal Dahal (commonly known by his nom de guerre Prachanda) and Madhav Kumar Nepal, on some important issues. The diplomat from Beijing sat with the three of them, and successfully resolved the crisis. However, Nepal’s over-dependency on China encourages Beijing to use the tiny nation against India, may be in an attempt to serve the Chinese geopolitical interests in South Asia…

India and Nepal are closely interconnected in many ways, and New Delhi is considered as Kathmandu’s most important partner, in the region. From that perspective, it can be said that Nepal has made a mistake by giving importance to short-term interests. Such an irrational move has certainly hit the bilateral diplomatic ties, badly!

Of course, there are some issues regarding India’s diplomatic moves. For India, the map crisis is not a new phenomenon. Nepal raised a serious concern when India published its political map, marking the new border between Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh in November 2019. New Delhi did not address the issue. Nepal did not raise any objection when India inaugurated a new road in Lipulekh near the Sino-Indian border on May 8, 2020. Is this a dichotomy in Nepal’s part!

After coming to power in 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his Government would take all the necessary steps to bolster ties with other countries in the region. However, PM Modi did not walk the talk. And now, Nepal raised concern over the road (constructed by India on its own territory) not because of diplomatic reason, but its internal politics. Experts are of the opinion that China is playing a big role in Nepal’s anti-India attitude. India’s border dispute with China blew up last week, with President Xi Jingping’s PLA trying to create a new one at Galwan (near Ladakh) where a bloody clash between the Chinese and Indian Armed Forces killed 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number from the Chinese side. It is to be noted that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has strongly criticised Beijing for its “rogue” attitude, saying that China has territorial disputes with a large number of its neighbours, and often tries to bully them into submission. The State Secretary has mentioned that China has island and maritime border disputes with Taiwan, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea. The disputes include islands, reefs, banks and other features in the South China Sea, including Spratly Islands (with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan), Paracel Islands (Vietnam), Scarborough Shoal (the Philippines), and Gulf of Tonkin (Vietnam).

President Xi Jinping’s China first claims ownership over a neighbour’s territory to rationalise its aggression.

It is, hence, quite natural that President Xi would not hesitate to manufacture a fresh problem with India with Nepal’s help in order to destabilise the South Asian Powerhouse. Now, it’s a challenge for the Modi Administration to normalise ties with Nepal through diplomacy, and to safeguard India’s national interests. Keeping in mind China’s close ties with (another belligerent neighbour) Pakistan, only diplomacy can help India restore regional peace. China, India, Nepal (and also Pakistan) cannot afford a war at this juncture. It is better if good sense prevails…

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