The Indian Army chief’s comments on the Kalapani dispute had hurt the sentiments of Nepali Gurkhas who have a long tradition of sacrifice for India, Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Ishwor Pokhrel said on Monday.
In an interview to online news outlet The Rising Nepal , he said General Manoj Naravane’s indirect reference to alleged Chinese hand behind the diplomatic spat was “condemnable” and the Nepal army would fight if necessary.
“With this, the Indian Chief of the Army Staff has also hurt the sentiments of the Nepali Gurkha army personnel who lay down their lives to protect India. It must now be difficult for them to stand tall in front of the Gurkha forces,” he said.
Mr. Pokhrel termed Gen. Naravane's comments a “political stunt”. Such opinions were not expected from the head of the Army, he said.
The Gurkhas of Nepal have a proud tradition of valour in the Indian armed forces dating back to pre-Independence era and were usually kept out of India-Nepal disputes. There are at least 40 battalions of Gurkhas in the Indian Army, which draws a bulk of the soldiers from Nepal.
This is the first time that Nepal’s Defence Minister has drawn the community into the ongoing spat that erupted after India inaugurated the Darchula-Lipulekh link road on May 8.
Gen. Naravane’s comment
Gen. Manoj Naravane had said the link road was built on the Indian territory and that there was no cause for Nepal to agitate. “There is reason to believe that they might have raised this issue at the behest of someone else and that is very much a possibility”, he stated during an online seminar on May 15.
The Nepal army has, however, maintained silence on this issue and declined to be drawn into the territorial dispute. Spokesperson of the Nepal army, Brig. General Bigyan Dev Pandey earlier refused to respond to General Naravane's comments, saying the matter fell in the “political” domain.
On Monday too, he maintained the same position, saying he was “not entitled” to comment on the the opinion of the Defence Minister.
But Mr. Pokhrel maintained that their army would act as and when required by Kathmandu. “It would definitely play its role in the right time, as per the directives of the government based on our Constitution... If needed, it will fight.” He also noted that Nepal believed in diplomatic dialogue to find a solution to the Kalapani issue.
Mr. Pokhrel’s comments came on a day when Nepal operationalised with China a freight agreement reached last October during the Kathmandu visit of President Xi Jinping. The agreement will allow Nepal to receive goods through the Tibetan city of Xigaze.
The rail-road transport service will allow it to get goods from China in a process that will take around nine days. This is part of Nepal’s plan of developing an alternative route that will reduce its dependence on India.