|The 1961 map signed by Nepal and China showing the proper alignment of the Kali river|
at tallies with Indian claim
An argument has recently erupted between India and Nepal, after a 80km new road between Darchula to Lipulekh, the border pass near the trijunction with Tibet and Nepal, was inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. The road is expected to be used by the Indian pilgrims visiting Kailash-Mansarovar, located some 90km from the pass, as well as the local traders, Lipulekh being one of the three authorized landports between India and China.
PTI explained: “The Lipulekh pass is a far western point near Kalapani, a disputed border area between Nepal and India. Both India and Nepal claim Kalapani as an integral part of their territory.”
Kathmandu handed over a diplomatic note protesting against the construction of this vital road to Vinaya Mohan Kwatra, the Indian Ambassador to Nepal; who was subsequently called by Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Nepal’s Foreign Minister.
Issues at HandIndia’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) denied that the road was crossing Nepal’s territory: “The recently inaugurated road section in Pithoragarh district in the state of Uttarakhand lies completely within the territory of India. The road follows the pre-existing route used by the pilgrims of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra,” said South Block.
Already in November last year, Kathmandu had protested, “unilateral decisions on border issues won’t be accepted,” it was in reference to the new Political Map of India published by Delhi after two new Union Territories - Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh - came into existence on October 31.
Kathmandu formally protested over the inclusion of the Kalapani area in the new map.
What is strange is that the new Indian map is exactly the same than the one published in 1954 in the Atlas of the Northern Frontiers of India, which is the official reference till today for India’s boundaries. Kathmandu did not protest against the old map and apart from the new UTs, there was nothing new in the 2019 maps.
The case is complicated by different factors; amongst them the political struggle within the ruling party in Nepal and also the fact that there has been no historical consistency in Kathmandu’s position.
Let us look at the history.
Tracing the HistoryAfter a War between British India and Nepal in 1814, the Nepalis were sent back across the Kali River in May 1815 and subsequently the Segowli Treaty was signed on March 4, 1816. Article 5 of the Treaty stated: “The Rajah of Nepaul renounces for himself, his heirs and successors, all claim to or connexion with the countries lying to the West of the River Kali, and engages never to have any concern with those countries or the inhabitants thereof.”
Unfortunately, there was no map attached which could have authoritatively shown the exact alignment and the source of the Kali River.
In any case, at that time, no scientific survey worth the name could be carried out; it was only by mid-19th century that the Himalayan border was properly surveyed by the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India (a precursor of the Survey of India).
But more interesting is the “Boundary Treaty between the People's Republic of China and the Kingdom of Nepal” signed by President Liu Shaoqi of China and King Mahendra of Nepal on October 5, 1961: “The Chairman of the People's Republic of China and His Majesty the King of Nepal, being of the agreed opinion that a formal settlement of the question of the boundary between China and Nepal is of fundamental interest to the peoples of the two countries,” said the preamble.
Article I (1) defined the China-Nepal boundary line which “starts from the point where the watershed between the Kali River and the Tinkar River meets the watershed between the tributaries of the Mapchu (Karnali) River on the one hand and the Tinkar River on the other hand…”
Even more interesting are the precise maps attached to the Treaty and signed by both parties; Kathmandu seems to have forgotten that the location of river on the maps of the Sino-Nepali treaty matches with the Indian one, which implies that the road is on Indian territory.
What is however disputed and needs to be negotiated is the area south of the river, where the British (and later Indian) cartographers have taken into account, like everywhere else on the frontiers, the watershed principle as well as the land revenues of Gunji village on the Indian side.
More of such examples of Kathmandu’s inconstancy could be cited.
What presently compounds the issue is the rift within the ruling party’s leadership in Nepal and the role played by China through Hou Yanqi, Beijing’s Ambassador to Kathmandu, the new ‘Queen’ of Nepal, who is credited to have arranged a rapprochement at the top level of the ruling Nepal Communist Party.
Future ImpactAn Op-ed in The Indian Express noted: “Shedding its image of being a reluctant player in the internal politics of Nepal, China has been playing an active role these past few days in Kathmandu’s power games.”
Ms Hou Yangqi brokered a truce, with KP Sharma Oli keeping his prime ministerial seat; it is said that President Xi Jinping had a 40-minute phone conversation with Nepal counterpart Bidhya Devi Bhandari, “ostensibly to promise all support to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.”
According to onlinekhabar, on May 12, “In contrast to his foreign affairs minister’s statement that the government was aware of India constructing a link road to Manasarovar encroaching on the Nepali territory in Kalapani region, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli says he was not told about it.”
There is no doubt about the location of the river and the fact that the new road is inside Indian territory. It is however in Delhi’s interests to find an amicable solution with Nepal for the areas for which there is no agreement; it could avoid China poking its nose into the bilateral affairs between Delhi and Kathmandu in the future.