Controversy and tension building up between India and Nepal on Strategically Important Road from Dharchula to Lipulekh leading to Kailash Mansarover. How politics in Nepal might pan out in the coming days may not be in India’s control. But Delhi must reclaim the primacy of place it enjoyed for decades among the Nepali political leaders, as well as the people of the country

by Maj Gen Ashwani Siwach (Retd)

Overview & Way Ahead

India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated strategically extremely crucial Road of 80 Km from Tawaghat to Lipulekh in Pithoragarh Distt in Uttarakhand passing through extremely difficult terrain reducing pilgrims time from three weeks to one week to visit Kailash Mansarovar on 07 May 20 via video conferencing. Earlier there was road existing till Tawaghat ie about 15 Km head of Dharchula and thereafter only foot/mule track existing uptill Lipulekh running parallel, west of Kalinadi. From Lipulekh onward there was by and large road /proper track existing on China's side till Kailash Mansarover. The road now constructed from Tawaghat till Lipulekh has followed same alignment of earlier existing track and was to be completed in five years by 2013 by Border Road Organisation. But due to hazardous terrain and road passing through altitude ranging from 6000 to 17000 ft the progress on the construction was extremely slow.

However, from 2019 onward Chinook helicopters were pressed in, to ferry heavy equipment and machinery which proved to be game changer and hastened up the speed. This road is not only important to India for movement of pilgrims to Kailash Mansarover,  tourism and trade but has significant strategic importance for logistic build up and fast induction of troops  against China.  Nepal Government has raised objection on this project claiming that road is passing through their territory and action of India is unilateral, possibly on egging by China and also to satisfy hyper nationalist ego of domestic population and of ruling communist party. Resolution has recently been passed by Nepal Government in the cabinet that Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura are all part of Nepal and should be taken back at all cost including using diplomatic and political means. Accordingly, political map to this effect has also been released by them. Nepal also claims that India clandestinely has shown these areas in their Political Map released late last year. Whereas the Indian Govt is very firm that  ibid Road is within Indian territory and followed same alignment of the earlier existing track used by pilgrims visiting Kailash Mansarover.

India feels that Nepal has never earlier in the past raised any objection /observation on this Road / track being used by pilgrims visiting Kailash Mansarover or when the road was being constructed for last more than 10 years. India strongly feels that this is being done due to pressure exerted by Chinese and also to keep the fragile unity in ruling communist party intact. Political map which was released last year by India was necessitated due to bifurcation of J&K State in two UTs after abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A and did not alter in any way boundary with Nepal.

India pointed out that Nepal's artificial enlargement of it's claims are not backed by historical facts and advised Nepal to respect the Territorial Sovereignty of India. In the past,  India and Nepal has resolved most of the border disputes except Kalapani and Lipulekh area in frank and friendlier manner. Both the countries are claiming that Kalapani, Lipulekh Area and Limpiyadhura falling in their territory. Nepal advocates that complete area falls in their Dharchula Distt and claims to have historical evidence ie 1816 Treaty of Sugauli entered with British India in this regard where as India feels that Lipulekh is tri- junction between India, China and Nepal and road runs west of Kalinadi and falls into Pithoragarh Distt of India. Nepal is India's one of the most important neighbour in South Asia with historical, cultural, religious and social ties.

This also becomes sensitive issue since there are about 15, 000 Gurkha soldiers serving in various regiments in Indian Army any point of time.There is well established protocol and mechanism existing between both the friendly countries to resolve such boundary issues diplomatically and politically. Therefore, relation between both the friendly countries should not be allowed to go down hill but should have meeting at foreign secretary level to resolve the issue amicably at the earliest, taking all the aspects into consideration,  in the spirit of mutual respect and friendship. Till the border dispute is not resolved amicably between India and Nepal the relations are going to remain strained.

Nepal is raising the border issue on China's coaxing and behest . At the same time, China is investing in Nepal in a big way to make Nepal more dependent on it. Nepal falling in China's debt trap cannot be ruled out. We have to deal Nepal tactfully and even exert pressure since Nepal being Land Locked country is dependent on India mainly for oil and communication in addition to the trade moving through India. Keeping the bondage of friendship existing between both the countries in mind, let's hope the matter is resolved on priority to the satisfaction of both of them.

Maj Gen Ashwani Siwach (Retd), YSM, VSM is a former head of territorial army and has vast experience in Counter Terrorism and Counter Insurgency operations both in J&K and the North East. Views expressed are his own