By Irfan Ali*
Lipulekh (elevation 5,200 m) is a Himalayan pass on the border between India’s Uttarakhand state and the Tibet region of China, near their tri-junction with Nepal. The pass is near the Chinese trading town of Taklakot (Purang) in Tibet and has been used since ancient times by traders, mendicants and pilgrims transiting between India and Tibet.
Ever since the “treaty of friendship 1950” between Delhi and Kathmandu, both countries have been enjoying friendly relations. However, in 1962 because of Sino-Indian War India closed the Lipulekh Pass, compelling Nepal’s trade to pass through the Tinker Pass. India unilaterally closed the Lipulekh pass that was the violation of the treaty of friendship reached between the two nations in 1950. Although during the war in 1962 between India and China, New Delhi had deployed there its troops since then the first boundary claim was made by Nepal. However, Nepal started protests over reopening of the Lipulekh Pass by China and India in 1997.
Similarly, Kathmandu grew upset over the bilateral agreement aimed at increasing trade through Lipulekh Pass between India and China in 2015. Therefore, Kathmandu condemned this act of bypassing its authority. The friction over this issue continued between India and Nepal. However, it got momentum in November 2019 when Indian government circulated a new map with the inclusion of Nepal’s Kalapani territory (the southern side of the Lipulekh pass) within India and started building a new road through Lipulekh Pass.
It is essential to mention that a treaty was signed between Nepal and Britain in 1815 later ratified in 1816 called the Treaty of Sugauli. That treaty recognized the Lipulekh and Kalapani region as part of Nepal declaring Makhali River as the boundary. The Lipulekh and Kalapani being a tri-junction among India, China, and Nepal keeps much geostrategic, geopolitical, and geo-economic importance for them.
This road through Lipulekh Pass is vital for strategic and tactical reasons for India with regards to Chinese movement. On May 10 2020, border skirmishes emerged between Chinese and Indian forces in northern Sikkim and eastern Ladakh. It further motivated Delhi to acquire full control over this region to keep Chinese movement under check.
Meanwhile, Lipulekh Pass is situated in the northern state of Uttarakhand’s Vyas Valley that makes it one of the natural passes to access Tibet through Uttarakhand. On May 08, 2020, Indian Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh inaugurated ghatiabagar Lipulekh motor road that connects the last Indian post on the Indo-China border. This track will not only ease the journey of pilgrims but also act as a strategic road that India could use it as deterrence against Chinese aggression.
Because of the hegemonic designs of PM Modi’s government, it claims the territory as its part of the region. Resultantly, Nepal’s Foreign Ministry stated India’s decision to build the road through territory at the Lipulekh pass was a breach of the agreement reached between the two countries in 2014. In 2014, PM Modi and (then) PM of Nepal Sushil Koirala reached the agreement that solution to boundary issues would be sought through negotiations.
Nepal has urged India to discuss the matter and solve it through diplomatic means. But India’s decision to build new road through Lipulekh Pass also invoked widespread unrest among the students and political parties in Nepal who set out to protest against Indian occupation of Lipulekh territory of Nepal. Protesters have been chanting slogans, displaying placards rejecting Indian illegal and unilateral action.
On May 9, 2020, the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (NCP) issued a press statement which categorically termed it as a criminal activity of Delhi and an attack on the sovereignty of Nepal. The NCP further explained that “It is deplorable that this development has taken place at a time when the entire humanity is faced with an unprecedented health crisis in the wake of coronavirus, and all our efforts are concentrated on fighting against this pandemic.”
Moreover, on May 10, 2020, ruling party leaders such as Pushpa Kamal Dahal (ruling party chair and former prime minister) called for action on India encroachment of Lipulekh. Dahal further said that “Nepal should first pursue high-level political and diplomatic channels to resolve the issue, but if that does not help resolve the issue, Nepal must come to a conclusion on what to do next.”
Similarly, Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Foreign Minister of Nepal, said that “India had encroached upon around 19 kilometers of Nepali territory while building the road link.” Strongly condemning India’s injustice, Nepal draws on Delhi to refrain from carrying out any activity inside its territory. The latter claims that India is motivated by its hegemonic ambitions, and is bent upon eating up the territories of other neighbours. It shows the hawkish and colonial mentality of Indian government which Nepal has refused to accommodate.
India, on the other hand, rejects Nepal’s opposition and maintains that the newly inaugurated road does not illegally cross into neighbouring Nepal. It dismisses Nepal’s objection of long ignoring a longstanding dispute over Lipulekh Pass and calls it is within Indian territory. Meanwhile, M.M. Naravane, Indian Army Chief, remarked that another country propels the diplomatic objection of Nepal over India’s newly christened road. He further explained that behind all this, there is a ‘China factor’ which is trying to create friction between Delhi and Kathmandu.
While responding to the Indian allegations, Pradeep Gyawali, Foreign Minister of Nepal said that the condemnation of Indian occupation over Nepali territory is based on Nepal’s internal decision-making and not inspired or influenced by China or any other country. India tries to divert the attention of Nepal by blaming it and linking the China factor to fulfil its vicious plans.
Hawkish and fascist policies and actions by PM Narendra Modi portrays his hegemonic designs which are also evident from his decision taken as on August 5, 2019; to change the status of disputed Jammu and Kashmir Valley after revoking Article 370. He also imposed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that resulted in Hindu-Muslim riots in India.
Similarly, the ‘Corona Jihad’ propaganda by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led the Indian government against Indian Muslims resulted in the killings of many Muslims all over the country. The same dictatorial mindset is reflected in the construction of the new road by India over Lipulekh pass. Its hegemonic designs are visibly challenging other countries in the region. Delhi has continuously been violating the ceasefire on Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan and resorting to unprovoked firing, targeting the civilian population. It is the responsibility of the United Nations and international community to condemn India’s unbridled misadventure in the region and take intense action against its hegemonic designs that are damaging for the peace and stability of the region.
*The writer is working as a Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, and PhD scholar in the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad, Pakistan.