India and Nepal appear to have a struck a balance on the boundary dispute in an effort to avoid friction at a time when the two countries need to focus on COVID-19 containment and prevention.
At the sixth meeting of the India-Nepal Joint Commission held in New Delhi on Friday, the Nepalese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, did raise the border question with his Indian counterpart Dr.S.Jaishankar as he promised in Kathmandu. But it appears that, at India’s insistence, it was played down.
The statement issued by the Indian External Affairs Ministry at the end of the meeting said that “border management” was among the issues discussed. The term “border dispute” was avoided and the issue was placed way down in the list of subjects discussed.
The disputed areas of Kalapani, Lipiyadhura and Lipulekh in the India-China-Nepal tri-junction, were also not mentioned in the communique.
What was stressed instead, was the supply of Indian COVID-19 vaccines to Nepal and the execution of India-aided development projects.
The delegations included Foreign Secretary of India, Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Foreign Secretary of Nepal, Bharat Raj Paudyal and other senior officials from both sides.
The official Indian statement said that the Joint Commission comprehensively reviewed all aspects of multifaceted cooperation between the two countries and explored ways to further strengthen the traditionally close and friendly ties.
“Both sides discussed several areas of cooperation including in the areas of connectivity, economy and trade, power, oil and gas, water resources, political and security issues, border management, development partnership, tourism, culture, education and capacity building.”
“The significant and concrete progress made since the last meeting of the Joint Commission in taking forward several bilateral initiatives was acknowledged.”
“The close cooperation between the two sides in combating Covid-19 pandemic in the region was noted. Nepal congratulated India on the remarkable success in production of Covishield and Covaxin vaccines in India and requested for early provision of vaccines to Nepal.”
“Noting the milestone achieved by the Motihari-Amlekhganj petroleum products pipeline, the two sides discussed the expansion of the pipeline to Chitwan and the establishment of a new pipeline on the eastern side connecting Siliguri to Jhapa in Nepal.”
“Both sides welcomed the completion of the work on first passenger railway line between India and Nepal from Jaynagar to Kurtha via Janakpur, and noted that operating procedures for commencement of train services were being finalized.”
“Other cross-border rail connectivity projects, including a possible Raxaul-Kathmandu broad gauge railway line, were also discussed.”
“The Joint Commission emphasized the need to facilitate cross border movement of people and goods. It was noted that the recently inaugurated Integrated Check Posts at Birgunj and Biratnagar have helped in seamless movement of people and trade between the two countries.”
“Both sides welcomed the commencement of construction of third ICP at Nepalgunj. India conveyed that construction of new ICP at Bhairahwa would be initiated shortly.’
“Discussions were held on expediting joint hydropower projects, including the proposed Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project, which have numerous benefits for the people of both countries.”
“India conveyed that it would undertake two more cultural heritage projects in Nepal, namely, the Pashupatinath Riverfront Development and the Bhandarkhal Garden Restoration in Patan Durbar, with grant assistance.’
“Both sides also exchanged views on international, regional and sub-regional cooperation. Nepal expressed support for India’s permanent membership of an expanded UN Security Council to reflect the changed balance of power.”
“Both sides agreed to hold the next meeting of the Joint Commission in Nepal on mutually convenient dates.