INDIA AND Nepal engaged in a war of words on Friday over India’s road to Lipulekh Pass.
Army Chief General M M Naravane said “there is reason to believe” that Nepal’s recent objection was “at the behest of someone else”, hinting at China’s possible role. Hitting back, Nepal’s President Bidhya Devi Bhandari asserted that “Lipulekh, Limpiadhura and Kalapani are an integral part of Nepal and concrete diplomatic steps will be taken to reclaim them”.
Presenting her government’s policies and programmes at a joint session of Parliament, Bhandari said they would issue a new political map incorporating these areas.
In New Delhi, speaking at a webinar organised by the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), Naravane said: “In fact, the Nepalese Ambassador has mentioned that the area east of the Kali river belongs to them. There is no dispute in that whatsoever. The road which we made is in fact to the west of the river.
So, I don’t know what they are agitating about. As we go ahead, it literally shows as to where the tri-junction should be. There have never been any problems on this score in the past.”
He was responding to a question on Nepal’s objection to the road. “There is reason to believe that they (Nepal) might have raised this issue at the behest of someone else and that is very much a possibility,” he said.
To a question on whether he saw a link “between Lipulekh and the recent clashes between the Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh and Sikkim”, Naravane underlined that these developments were not linked.
On May 8, India opened the 80-km road from Ghatiabgarh in Uttarakhand to Lipulekh Pass, near the India-Nepal-China trijunction and just 5 km short of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). This road reduces the travel time for Indian pilgrims going to Kailash Mansarovar.
On the recent tension between Indian and Chinese troops, in Sikkim and Ladakh, Naravane said it was not linked to any domestic or international event. He said sometimes, when a new officer takes over, it can lead to such altercations. “A new commander wants to show he is different from the others. There are a lot of dynamics on why a face-off occurs,” he said.
Responding to another question, Naravane said the Army has received an order from the government to cut expenditure by 20% due to the Covid-19 crisis, adding that the force is doing this without compromising on its combat readiness.
On a two-front war, he said: “It is a possibility. It is not that it is going to happen every time. We have to be alive to all contingencies which can happen, various scenarios that can unfold. We have to remain alive to the possibility.”
However, he said, “to assume that in all cases both fronts would be 100 per cent active. would be an incorrect assumption. In dealing with the two-front scenario, there will always be a priority front and a secondary front.”
“We should not look at a two-front scenario just as a military responsibility. A country does not go to war with its armed forces alone. It has other pillars like diplomatic corps and other organs of government which will come into play to make sure that we are not forced into a corner where we will have to deal with two adversaries at the same time and in full strength,” he said.
He said the Army’s proposal on a voluntary three-year “tour of duty” for youths came after feedback from school and college students.
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