Nepal’s Foreign Minister, Pradeep Gyawali, arrived in the Indian capital on Thursday for a two-day visit expected to focus on providing vaccines for Covid-19 and development cooperation, although Kathmandu also signalled its intention to raise the border.
Gyawali will meet with his Indian counterpart, S Jaishankar, for talks on Friday, and the two ministers will chair the bilateral joint committee meeting. This will only be the sixth meeting of the body since 1987, although it has been convened four times since 2014. Gyawali was also set to hold a number of private meetings on Thursday.
The Minister is the top Nepalese leader to visit India more than a year after the outbreak of the Covid 19. He is also the first leader to visit New Delhi since Nepal’s Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli, triggered political turmoil by dissolving Parliament last month and calling for early elections in April-May.
Gyawali’s delegation includes both the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary for Health, reflecting the focus on cooperation between Covid-19. Although Nepal has formally reached out to India and China for vaccines, Kathmandu has indicated a preference for receiving doses from New Delhi due to factors such as pricing, logistics and well-established links between the health sectors of the two countries.
People familiar with developments have said, on condition of anonymity, that Nepal hopes that India will provide vaccines to help inoculate part of the 12 million population it plans to cover in its first phase of vaccination. Nepal also plans to purchase millions of doses from foreign suppliers, including the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech.
The Indian side has said that the country’s ability to export vaccines after meeting domestic needs will become apparent over the next few weeks. Officials also said that the supply of vaccines will give priority to India’s neighbours.
India-Nepal ties came under the shadow of a border line last year after Oli’s government issued a new political map including Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh, which are part of Indian territory. The map was published in response to India’s opening of a strategic road to Lipulek, located on the border with China.
In a statement announcing Gyawali’s visit on Tuesday, Nepal’s foreign ministry said the joint commission meeting will discuss the gamut of bilateral relations, including “trade, transit, energy, boundary, Covid-19 cooperation, infrastructure, connectivity, investment, agriculture, tourism, culture, among others”.
The people cited above said India had made its position on the border row very clear – the external affairs ministry last year described Nepal’s new map as “unjustified cartographic assertion” – and the stance hadn’t changed. They added the focus of the upcoming meeting will be taking forward development cooperation, including India-backed projects in Nepal.
Given that Oli currently heads a caretaker government, there is unlikely to be any substantive movement on the border issue, the people said. One option the two sides could look at is asking the bilateral boundary working group to look afresh at the border issue to help finalise the border in the disputed sections at Kalapani and Susta, the people added.
Prior to Oli’s sudden decision to dissolve Parliament, normalcy was restored by back-to-back visits to Kathmandu last year by Research and Analysis Wing Chief Samant Goel, Indian Army Chief Gen MM Naravane and Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla.
Gyawali is also expected to inform the Indian side of the political developments in Nepal. India has been wary of China’s efforts to broker an understanding between Oli and its main rival, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, in order to keep the Communist Party of Nepal united.

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