Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 91, 20 May 2020

India-Nepal Border Dispute: Kathmandu to publish new map claiming control over Kalapani 
Sourina Bej

In the news

The dispute over the riverine border of Kalapani and Lipulekh pass has worsened the current bilateral relation between India and Nepal. Three incidents have contributed to the escalating tensions in the relationship. 

On 8 May Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a road-link connecting Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet, China that is expected to help pilgrims visiting the pilgrimage site. The road is around 90 km from the Lipulekh pass. Protesting against India's border road development near the pass, Nepal President Bidhya Bhandari, in her address to the Parliament last week, reiterated its claim that Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulekh belong to Nepal and appropriate diplomatic measures will be adopted to resolve the existing issues with India. 

This was followed by tabling of a special resolution by Nepal's ruling Nepal Communist Party in the Parliament demanding return of territory in Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh. Nepal's cabinet has endorsed the resolution and a new political map showing Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura under its territory will be made public for the first time by the Minister of Land Management in the subsequent weeks. By announcing the desire to bring out a new map, Nepal Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali was also responding to the Indian Army Chief General Naravane's statement that the reaction from Nepal could be "at the behest of someone else" thereby indicating at the dragon in the room. 

Issues at large

The first issue is the historicity of the border. The Lipulekh pass is a far western point near Kalapani, a disputed border area between Nepal and India. Both India and Nepal have claimed Kalapani as a part of their territory - India as part of Uttarakhand's Pithoragarh district and Nepal as part of Dharchula district. As Nepal goes on to restore its cartographic rights on the disputed territory by including the 335-km land area of Limpiyadhura into the Nepalese territory, the new map draws its historical claims from the Sugauli Treaty of 1816. The treaty signed between Nepal and the then British India government primarily suggests Limpiyadhura, from where the Kali river originated, as Nepal's border with India. 

Second is the geo-economic importance of the border. The road connecting India with China has been one of the agreed agendas of the May 2015 India-China summit in Xian. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chinese President Xi Jinping had signed an agreement to use the Lipulek pass for trade between the two countries. Hence as the road turns into an economical route between India and China, Nepal's has swiftly moved to clear the dispute over Kalapani. 

Third is the rocky history of recent India-Nepal relations. Nepal has raised the issue of Kalapani for many years with India. The current decision to publish new maps comes after repeated deadlocks in the border talks. Nepal's current strong message to India is also due to the past heavy-handed policy of an economic blockade by New Delhi in 2015-16. In addition, India's repeated retort at Nepal being soft to China has not borne well with the political leadership in Nepal. 

In perspective 

First, since November 2019, the Indian Government has been fully aware of Nepal's position on the issue. Hence it remains unclear why India would 'inaugurate' an unfinished road amid the pandemic without addressing Nepal's concerns first. The likely answer could be on the economic value of the Kailash Mansarovar route. With a much easier alternative for trade between India and China, Nepal's economic prospect as a transit could considerably reduce. 

Second, with the present call for a new map, there has been a distinct change in the narrative that Nepal has taken while negotiating with the border issue with India. Since 1950 till now, Nepal has gone from political silence under the Rana monarchy to rigorous persuasion by the Nepali people. It is noteworthy that while the panchayat institutions in Nepal has been silent about the triangle in the northwest, the elected governments under democracy post-1990 have pursued the "Kalapani agenda", supported by growing scholarship built on the historical revisiting of the Sugauli treaty and the British-era archives. Meanwhile, regular communications with New Delhi has also been undertaken to keep the matter current.

Sourina Bej is a Research Associate at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)  

September 2020 | Conflict Alert # 156
Pakistan: Targeted Violence continues in Waziristan

September 2020 | Conflict Alert # 154
The anti-Racist Protests in the US: Between
August 2020 | Conflict Alert # 148
Israel and UAE normalize relations

August 2020 | Conflict Alert # 146
Bolivia: Protests against the Election postponement
August 2020 | Conflict Alert # 138
In Iraq, the protestors return to the streets 
July 2020 | Conflict Alert # 118
J&K: Geelani's Exit and Continuing Violence
June 2020 | Conflict Alert # 105
Black Lives Matter brings the US to its knees
May 2020 | Conflict Alert # 86
Libya: Khalifa Haftar announces ceasefire 

May 2020 | Conflict Alert # 81
India: The surge in violence in J&K
April 2020 | Conflict Alert # 71
Afghanistan: 300 Taliban prisoners released
April 2020 | Conflict Alert # 67
Syria: New UN Report on Idlib
April 2020 | Conflict Alert # 64
A lethal impact on the Refugee/Migrant Camps 
April 2020 | Conflict Alert # 63
Indigenous Communities battle a complete wipeout 
March 2020 | Conflict Alert # 51
Coronavirus & China: Fall in numbers 
March 2020 | Conflict Alert # 47
Coronavirus & Nepal: In the second stage, cancels
March 2020 | Conflict Alert # 44
Two Presidents in Afghanistan
March 2020 | Conflict Alert # 42
'Aurat March': A New beginning across Pakistan 

March 2020 | Conflict Alert # 38
Sri Lanka withdraws from 30/1 Geneva Resolution

February 2020 | Conflict Alert # 35
A ceasefire between Israel, Islamic Jihad in Gaza
February 2020 | Conflict Alert # 34
Libya: rivals withdraw from Geneva peace talks

February 2020 | Conflict Alert # 33
India: Violence in Delhi
February 2020 | Conflict Alert # 32
Afghanistan: Seven Days of Peace
February 2020 | Conflict Alert # 31
Climate Change Fallouts: Impacts the Bird population
February 2020 | Conflict Alert # 28
Pakistan: Court convicts LeT founder Hafiz Saeed
February 2020 | Conflict Alert # 27
Pakistan: Suicide terrorism returns to haunt Quetta
February 2020 | Conflict Alert # 26
Afghanistan: The US-Taliban Seven Day Deal

February 2020 | Conflict Alert # 24
Israel: Violence in post  Trump-deal
January 2020 | Conflict Alert # 20
Kenya: Al Shabab and a week of killings
December 2019 | Conflict Alert # 19
Citizenship Amendment Bill:2019
November 2019 | Conflict Alert # 18
Lebanon: PM Hariri quits, but protests continue 

October 2019 | Conflict Alert # 16
Bolivian unrest
October 2019 | Conflict Alert # 15
Hundreds protest in Haiti
October 2019 | Conflict Alert # 14
Protests rock Chile

October 2019 | Conflict Alert # 13
Hong Kong Violence: A divide within
October 2019 | Conflict Alert # 12
Spain: The trouble in Catalonia
October 2019 | Conflict Alert # 11
Turkey's Offensive in Syria
August 2019 | Conflict Alert # 9
Africa to be Polio Free
August 2019 | Conflict Alert # 7
Myanmar: Teenage girls traded as brides to China
August 2019 | Conflict Alert # 6
Moscow Protests: Thousands rally in Moscow

August 2019 | Conflict Alert # 3
Jordan Restores diplomatic ties with Qatar