In the first high-level diplomatic visit to Nepal since the slide in ties after the boundary row this summer, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla reached Kathmandu Thursday and met the country’s leaders including Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli.
Sources said that Foreign Secretary’s discussions with Oli — they had a one-on-one meeting, apart from the delegation-level talks — included a “candid review of the state of the bilateral relationship”, and the potential for bringing India and Nepal closer.
Oli, Indian sources said, conveyed Nepal’s desire to build on the momentum in the bilateral relationship and enhance the level of engagement.
Delhi Confidential| Vocal on Glocal
Sources said the special relations between India and Nepal, and the importance of “respecting each other’s sensitivities” were noted during the meeting.
Both sides felt that “we should focus on the positives of the wide-ranging relationship,” the sources said.
“Both sides shared their perspectives on boundary matters and discussed ways to take it forward under the appropriate bilateral mechanisms,” sources said.
The Nepal Foreign Ministry, in a statement, said “They also discussed the boundary matters and exchanged views on completing the boundary work in the remaining segments.”
Before meeting Oli, Shringla met Nepal Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali. In that meeting, it is learnt that Shringla conveyed an invitation from External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to Gyawali to visit India for the next round of the Joint Commission Meeting.
At the meeting, all facets of the bilateral relationship were discussed, the Indian embassy in Kathmandu said.
Shringla also handed over 2,000 vials of Remdesivir to Gyawali on behalf of India as continuing assistance for Covid-19 patients.
Following his meeting with counterpart Bharat Raj Paudyal, Shringla said, “We had a very productive and useful exchange, we went through a very large number of issues of bilateral cooperation. It shows the multifaceted and comprehensive nature of our cooperation.”
“We both agreed on various steps to advance some areas of the cooperation… very good progress on commitments made by the leadership and looking at some other initiatives that could happen,” he said.
On his first visit to Nepal as Foreign Secretary, Shringla is meeting leaders across the political spectrum — he met delegations of Nepali Congress and Madhes leaders. He also met President Bidya Devi Bhandari. He returns from Kathmandu on Friday.
The visit is being seen as a reciprocal gesture following Oli’s August 15 reachout via a phone call to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
While New Delhi is not changing its stance on the boundary issue, Shringla’s visit is aimed at bringing the relationship back on track, six months after the map issue affected bilateral ties.
India’s inauguration of a new road from Dharchula to Lipulekh on the Mansarovar Yatra route in May angered the Oli government which came out with a new map of Nepal, adding to it an area of 370 sq km at the tri-junction of Nepal, India and China (Tibet) which India maintains is its territory.
A Constitution amendment Bill was passed by Nepal’s parliament to legitimize the alteration to the country’s map with the addition of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura. The passage of the Bill and the new map led to breakdown of communication between the two countries.
Shringla’s visit is an effort to reset ties. He and Oli, sources said, discussed specific measures that could be taken to finalise key projects at the earliest, including the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project, as well as launch new economic initiatives.
The Nepal Foreign Ministry said the two sides also reviewed with satisfaction the progress made with regard to the bilateral cooperation projects, including key connectivity projects and post-earthquake reconstruction work.
Indian sources said the need to resume people-to-people contact, including commencement of an air travel bubble between India and Nepal, was discussed.
Oli thanked Shringla for India’s assistance during the Covid pandemic. Discussions took place on vaccine development and deployment, and the Foreign Secretary said Nepal’s requirement would be considered on priority.