China feels that India is also acting against it; hence, it is creating troubles for India. Before the protest from Nepal, it instigated Pakistan, writes Jai Kumar Verma for South Asia Monitor
India and Nepal share 1,690 km long open and peaceful border and 97 percent of the border between both the countries are demarcated. However the areas in Kalapani and Susta are not marked. Hence on May 11, 2020, Kathmandu summoned Indian Ambassador to Nepal Vinay Kwatra and handed over a diplomatic note to protest against building of a road which connects Lipulekh pass and Pithoragarh. The road which was inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on May 8 is 80 km long and it touches the India-China-Nepal tri-junction. The road will be helpful to the troops deputed on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the India-China borders and will also be beneficial to the pilgrims of Kailash Mansarovar.
The Lipulekh pass is near Kalapani, which is a disputed territory between India and Nepal. However, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) issued a statement on May 9, mentioning, that “the recently inaugurated road section in Pithoragarh district in the state of Uttarakhand lies completely within the territory of India. The road follows the pre-existing route used by the pilgrims of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. Under the present project, the same road has been made pliable for the ease and convenience of pilgrims, locals and traders.” But, Nepal claimed that the road is constructed on Nepalese territory and India’s action is “unilateral”.
Meanwhile, Indian Army chief, General Manoj Mukund Naravane without naming China hinted that Nepal might be protesting on the behest of someone else. General Naravane was replying to questions after a talk at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses on May 15. He further stated that there is no dispute on the land, and it is difficult to understand why Nepal is protesting. The army chief made it clear that there is no relation between the current clashes between Indian and Chinese armies at North Sikkim and Eastern Ladakh with Nepalese protest.
However, Nepal strongly refuted the charges that Nepal is protesting on behest of China. Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali stated while giving an interview to an Indian TV network that Nepal will never allow another country to interfere in its internal matters. He further stated that although Nepal has cordial relations with China, it pursues a neutral foreign policy and it has cordial relations with both the neighbours. Here it is interesting to note that both India and China had bilateral agreement on the road link which Nepal claims as its territory.
Nepalese Foreign Minister summoned the Indian envoy and lodged a strong protest. The minister mentioned that India’s unilateral decision is contrary to the understanding between both the countries. Nepal was trying to have a meeting after India published a map in November 2019 and voiced its objections. However, India had not given dates for the meeting. The timings of the inauguration of the road is also questionable as Nepal is fighting from coronavirus and the opposition parties got an important point to embarrass Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, who is under immense pressure from the opposition.
A tough power struggle is going on between Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known as Prachanda, and Prime Minister Oli. Prachanda is the Chairman of Nepal Communist Party and twice prime minister of Nepal. According to media reports, Oli is in trouble as several senior party members may ask him to resign. However, Chinese intelligence agency, the Ministry of State Security (MSS) is trying to ensure that the present government continues.
Nepal is protesting and the public is agitating since India updated the map on November 2, 2019, in which Kalapani was shown as an Indian territory. Nepal claims it as its area. The Nepal government deployed Armed Police Force (APF) at Lipulekh after a week India inaugurated the road. Now the APF is regularly patrolling the area. The Nepalese public is demanding that the prime minister should talk to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and resolve this issue. Nepalese foreign ministry has issued a press note in which it mentioned that the eastern area (Lipulekh, Kalapani, Limpiyadhura) of Mahakali river is Nepalese territory. Several Nepalese members of parliament had demanded that Nepal should publish its own map of the area in which these areas are shown as Nepalese territory.
On May 20, the Nepal government officially issued a new map that showed Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura under its territory. The development had come a day after Nepal prime minister had declared in the Parliament that the Kalapani area belonged 'indisputably' to Nepal and his government will wrest control of it. In its reply to Nepal unveiling its new political map, India said such artificial enlargement of territorial claims by Nepal will not be acceptable to it and asked the neighbouring country to refrain from "unjustified cartographic assertion." "This unilateral act is not based on historical facts and evidence. It is contrary to the bilateral understanding to resolve the outstanding boundary issues through diplomatic dialogue," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said. "Such artificial enlargement of territorial claims will not be accepted by India.” "Nepal is well aware of India’s consistent position on this matter and we urge the government of Nepal to refrain from such unjustified cartographic assertion and respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity," Srivastava said.
Internationally, at present, China is facing trouble as several countries are alleging that either China is responsible for the spread of coronavirus or it has not taken due precautions to prevent it from becoming a big pandemic by which the whole world is now suffering. Companies of several countries are planning to relocate from China and few countries have slashed the purchases from China. US President Donald Trump is regularly issuing statements against China and trade war between both the countries is yet to be resolved. China feels that India is also acting against it; hence, it is creating troubles for India.
Before the protest from Nepal, it instigated Pakistan. On April 30, Pakistan Supreme Court permitted the government to hold general elections in Gilgit and Baltistan, which is part of Kashmir and illegally occupied by Pakistan. The court also permitted the formation of a caretaker government during the intervening period. Indian and Chinese troops also clashed at Line of Actual Control (LAC) on May 5 and 9.
Hence, the possibility that China opt for some more skirmishes with India to divert the world's attention cannot be ruled out.
(The author is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst and member of USI and IDSA. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)