Indian Army Chief General MM Naravane is expected to travel to Nepal next month, the first high-level visit between the two countries since the borderline hit relations earlier this year.
Nepal’s defence ministry announced on Wednesday that Naravane will visit in November. “The visit was approved by the government of Nepal on February 3, 2020, but was postponed due to [the Covid-19] lockdown in both the countries,” it said in a statement.
In keeping with a long-standing convention between the armies of the two countries, Nepal’s President Vidya Devi Bhandari will “confer the honorary rank of general of the Nepali Army to General Naravane in an investiture ceremony during this visit”, the statement said.
Though the statement didn’t give the dates for the trip, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that the Indian Army chief is expected to be in Nepal during November 3-5.
India and Nepal have traditionally had strong defence and security ties, with regular exchanges and training programmes. Nearly 30,000 Gurkhas serve in seven regiments of the Indian Army.
The visit to Naravan would provide an opportunity for both sides to move forward with defence and security cooperation following the bilateral relations that erupted in May.
At the time, Nepal objected to India’s defence minister, Rajnath Singh, opening a new road to the Lipulek area on the border with Tibet. Nepal then published a new map showing Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura, all occupied by India, as part of Nepal’s territory, exacerbating the line.
Soon after the row began, Naravane said that Nepal’s protest against the border road was at the behest of “someone else” – a veiled reference to China. The comments provoked the Nepalese leadership, and Defense Minister Ishwar Pokhrel said that they “wrestled the feelings of the Nepalese Gurkha army personnel who lay down their lives to defend India,” Hindustan Times reported.
India denied the claims made by Nepal on Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura and said that the matter should be discussed through dialogue. However, the talks between the two sides are yet to be scheduled.
In August, the two sides conducted a monitoring mechanism to oversee India-funded development projects and agreed to speed up work on bilateral projects, including infrastructure schemes and cross-border rail links. This was seen as the first effort by the two countries to put their relations back on a keel.