Indo-Nepal border dispute in focus again

The recently concluded convention of Nepal’s ruling Maoists — Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) — would mostly be remembered for the party’s strategic policy shift of discarding the path of protracted peoples’ war to adopting capitalist revolution.

It would also be remembered in lesser measure for party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s attempt at using referendum as a tool to resolve Nepal’s long standing border dispute with India.

The proposal presented at the convention by Prachanda in his political document was later removed after it met with opposition and ridicule from within the party and outside.

Many felt it was illogical to suggest resolution of border disputes through such a method since it required government to government level negotiations between both countries.

Few others compared Prachanda with Kazi Lhendup Dorjee — a key figure in Sikkim’s 1975 union with India following a referendum abolishing monarchy and approving the merger.

Sensing the mistake Prachanda decided to do away with the suggestion and instead included “revoking unequal treaties and agreements signed in the past” with India in his document.

Border dispute between both countries sprung up after India’s independence following discontinuation of annual inspection of border areas by a team comprising officials from India and Nepal to detect encroachment, missing pillars and territories unclearly defined.

To address the issue and clearly demarcate the border, a Joint Technical Committee was set up in 1981. It took more than two decades of work to mark out 98 percent of the border on strip maps. The maps were signed by experts of both nations in 2007.

The two most disputed areas, Kalapani and Susta, were however not covered by the JTC as it was felt that problems specific to these pockets can be addressed only through high-level negotiations.

Although more than five years have passed since signing of the strip maps, Nepal is yet to give consent on formalizing them. And unless that happen demarcation of the boundary on the ground can’t take place.

Nepal’s political instability is one reason why the task remains incomplete. But some experts in Kathmandu also question the methods used to delineate the border and claim Nepal lost more than a thousand hectares to India in the process.

There is also the view that Kalapani and Susta are not the only remaining areas of dispute and that both countries need to renegotiate problems at more than 60 different points along the nearly 1,800-km long border.

But unlike Prachanda’s proposal, these issues can’t be addressed by a referendum in one country and both countries need to adopt a pro-active approach to resolve the border dispute before they spiral out of control and affect bilateral relations.

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