The results of 45 days of discreet back-channel diplomacy with Kathmandu will be put to the test this week when Chief General of the Indian Army, M.M. Naravane, calls on Nepal’s Prime Minister, K P Sharma Oli, to formally bury the orchestrated dispute over road construction via Lipulek on a pilgrimage to Mansarovar in Tibet.
Gen Naravan will be officially appointed Honorary Leader of the Nepal Army by Bidya Devi Bhandari, President of Nepal, during his three-day visit starting on 4 November.
After the inauguration ceremony, PM Oli is expected to meet with the Army Chief in his capacity as Defense Minister.
There is every indication that Gen Naravane will receive a red carpet treatment from Kathmandu, as the Oli Government wants to revive the Pancheshwar multi-purpose project on the Mahakali River, as well as other hydro-electric projects with India. According to official sources, two governments are discussing the Pancheswar draught comprehensive project report on technical teams, with 80 percent of the outstanding issues resolved through mutual consultation. India’s SJVN is already building a 900 megawatt Arun III project and another 900 MW Upper Karnali hydroelectric project by GMR is on steam with no issues posed by Kathmandu.
As India strongly believes that the Kalapani Map Controversy was the product of Nepal’s own domestic politics, it is willing to shake Kathmandu’s extended friendship and resolve internal party wrangling to restore the age-old relationship between two close neighbors. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is involved in strengthening relations with Nepal and has made it clear to everyone that Kathmandu has a special position with New Delhi, irrespective of the party in power.
Indeed, India is considering a proposal to make a major contribution to the education, health, and infrastructure development sectors in Nepal. With Nepal, the following can be done:
• Education: While India has invested heavily over the years, there is a dire need to help Nepal set up schools and academic institutions. India may also provide education facilities in the eastern and western regions of Nepal, thus extending a large number of scholarships to the Hima region for children to study in India.
• Health: India can benefit Nepal by catering to health facilities in the form of specialised small hospitals in remote northern areas. Intense interaction between physicians in both countries is required to bridge the deficiency of qualified physicians in the Himalayan Republic as well as support for essential medical supplies from New Delhi.
• Infrastructure: India and Nepal need to join forces to develop long-term road and bridge infrastructure in remote areas. China has already pushed into this area and built a ring road around Kathmandu. In order to avoid the flooding of trans-border rivers, the two countries will need to jointly recognize the areas where the banks need to be reinforced.
• Water scarcity: India needs to share expertise with Nepal to resolve severe drinking water shortages in high altitude areas.
• Agriculture: India has been supplying fertilizers to Nepal, but this has been stopped by Kathmandu, who blamed New Delhi for not renewing the old supply agreement. This problem needs to be worked out on a priority basis, as Kathmandu is looking to China and Bangladesh to bridge the gap.
Both countries need to look at improved cross-border connectivity by increasing the number of trade points at the border with immigration and customs facilities. In addition, India and Nepal could work together to establish Simikot and Nepalgunj airports, used by Indians for a pilgrimage to Mansarovar.
Although Gen Naravan ‘s visit is supposed to crack the ice between two old friends, one sincerely hopes that it will not turn out to be a false dawn.
Tags: Indian Army, Nepal, Kathmandu, K P Sharma Oli, PM Narendra Modi