India and Nepal on Thursday discussed ways to handle the boundary issue, which had recently hit bilateral ties, through existing mechanisms as foreign secretary Harsh Shringla met the country’s top leadership to bolster cooperation in key areas such as connectivity and infrastructure.
Shringla met Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali and foreign secretary Bharat Raj Paudyal on the first day of his two-day visit aimed at putting the relationship on an even keel and enhancing joint efforts aimed at post-Covid-19 recovery.
Ties took a hit when Nepal issued a new political map in May that laid claim to the Kalapani region, which is controlled by India, after New Delhi opened a new road to the strategic Lipulekh region. India rejected the map but said it was open to discussing the matter through appropriate mechanisms.
A person familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that Shringla’s discussions with Oli included a “candid review of the state of the bilateral relationship”. The importance of respecting each other’s sensitivities was noted and both sides stressed on the positives in the special relationship, the person said.
During the various meetings, the two sides “shared their perspectives on boundary matters and discussed ways to take it forward under the appropriate bilateral mechanisms”, the person added.
A statement issued by Nepal’s foreign ministry said Shringla and Paudyal “discussed the boundary matters and exchanged views on completing the boundary work in the remaining segments”.
Almost 98% of the 1,770-km India-Nepal border is demarcated and the two sides only have differences in the Kalapani and Susta regions.
Much of Shringla’s discussions focused on bilateral development projects, including key connectivity schemes and post-earthquake reconstruction work, and ways to expedite their implementation. At the meeting with Oli, discussions were held on specific steps that could help finalise important projects at the earliest, including the Pancheshwar multipurpose project and the launch of new economic initiatives.
Specific meetings to maintain high-level engagement and address issues of mutual interest were also discussed. The need to resume people-to-people contacts, including the launch of an air bubble between India and Nepal, also figured in the talks.
At the meeting with foreign minister Gyawali, Shringla handed over 2,000 vials of Remdesivir injections as part of India’s support for efforts to combat Covid-19. Noting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said India will use its vaccine manufacturing capabilities for the world, Shringla said, “We will make this vaccine accessible and affordable and it goes without saying that the first priority will be for our closest neighbours, our friends like Nepal.”
Shringla, who spoke to the media in Nepali, described India and Nepal as “close friends” and said his meetings were aimed at seeing how the two sides can take the relationship forward. Shringla also called on President Bidya Devi Bhandari and met delegations of Nepali Congress and Madhesh leaders.
On Friday, Shringla will deliver a virtual talk hosted by the Asian Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs. He will visit Gorkha district to inaugurate three schools rebuilt with Indian assistance and remotely inaugurate an India-funded project to renovate the Tashop Gompa monastery in Manang district.