For top-level talks to succeed, bilateral dialogue mechanisms should be strengthened, says Nepalese expert

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold bilateral official discussions with his Nepalese counterpart Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ on Thursday at the Hyderabad House.

May 30, 2023 11:37 pm | Updated 11:37 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The upcoming visit by the PM of Nepal Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” has raised hope of a major breakthrough in India’s neighbourhood | file photo

The upcoming visit by the PM of Nepal Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” has raised hope of a major breakthrough in India’s neighbourhood | file photo | Photo Credit: PTI

 The upcoming visit by the Prime Minister of Nepal Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” has raised hope of a major breakthrough in India’s neighbourhood, but a leading analyst said the visit was not preceded by required meetings of the bilateral mechanisms that were created to lay the grounds for top level engagements.

Mr. Prachanda is scheduled to arrive here on Wednesday for a four-day visit during which the two sides are expected to sign agreements on water and energy projects. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold bilateral official discussions with Mr. Prachanda on Thursday at the Hyderabad House.

Kalapani dispute

The visit is symbolically significant as Mr. Prachanda is among the tallest Maoist leaders who kickstarted the democratic process during 2005-06 by overthrowing the monarchy in Nepal. This is his third stint as the Prime Minister since 2008 and the visit comes three and half years after Nepal demanded the Kalapani region of Uttarakhand after India asserted its control over the region in a new political map that was published in November 2019. Mr. Prachanda had supported Nepal’s demand for Kalapani in the Pratinidhi Sabha and helped pass the new national insignia unanimously that showed the region as the territory governed by Kathmandu. It was in this backdrop that the Foreign Secretary-level mechanism was highlighted by India as the right forum to address such difficult issues.

Last February Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra met his Nepalese counterpart Bharat Raj Paudyal in Kathmandu but the press note issued after the meeting did not indicate a forward movement on the boundary issue.

Uddhab Pyakurel of Kathmandu University has pointed out that a number of bilateral mechanisms that were set up to reduce tension and create a friendly atmosphere between the two countries had not delivered the expected results.

Also read: Stabilising ties with Nepal in uncertain times

Eminent Persons Group

“The Foreign Secretary-level mechanism has been in existence and was expected to deal with difficult issues like the Kalapani dispute but there is no forward movement in that matter. Then there are such mechanisms for flood control, trade and customs none of which have worked according to expectation as they are not coordinated with top-level meetings. The biggest of the mechanisms is the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) which prepared a report but the world is yet to find out what happened to contents,” Dr. Pyakurel told The Hindu

The bilateral mechanisms have been a part of managing frequent eruption of tension between the two sides. In February 2016, Mr. Modi and then Prime Minister of Nepal Kharga Prasad Sharma Oli announced the formation of an EPG that sought a review of the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two countries. It was perceived as a landmark step as it came after the 2015 blockade. However, the final report of the EPG is yet to be published.

The sixth meeting of the India Nepal Joint Commission Meeting headed by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali took place in January 2021 in Delhi but then political instability in Nepal broke out which prevented forward movement of the discussion. 

Dr. Pyakurel argues that the bilateral dialogue mechanisms throw up important ideas that can be used to strengthen leadership level talks and said the dialogue between the two Prime Ministers could have benefited more if both sides had displayed commitment to keep the mechanisms on track. “It is unrealistic to expect Prime Ministers to suddenly produce a breakthrough as such a development can be possible only if the dialogue mechanisms provide them the right inputs much in advance,” said Dr. Pyakurel. 

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