by Ishaal Zehra 23 December 2019
India has recently moved to divide Indian occupied part of Kashmir into two federally administered territories of Ladakh and J&K despite protests from within as well outside India. Soon after stripping the IoK’s special status and splitting the Himalayan region in August, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs published an updated map of India in November 2019 which created disturbance not only in Pakistan (because of obvious Kashmir issue) but in China and Nepal as well.
India’s new political map has stirred a massive controversy in Nepal, with both New Delhi and Kathmandu laying claim to a region, known as Kalapani – a 35 square-kilometers (13.5 square-miles) area in Nepal’s far-western region, as part of their countries’ territory. Interestingly, Kalapani, which borders the Indian state of Uttarakhand, is appearing in Nepal’s official map supporting its own claim. Uttarakhand shares an 80.5 km long porous border with Nepal and a 344 km border with China.
Retaliating to the Indian hegemonic designs students from the opposition Nepali Congress party led the protest outside the Indian embassy in Kathmandu as well as other parts of the country, carrying signs that read: “Back Off India”, to protest against the map, bringing back the memory of anti-India protests in the wake of the 2015 border blockade imposed by India. The hashtags #BackoffIndia and #Kalapani trended on Twitter for quite some time. It has been more than a month since the dispute erupted and it continues to remain on Nepal’s domestic political agenda. India, however, appears to be downplaying the issue since its initiation.
In Nepal, there is an all-party consensus that India occupied Nepali land. The spokesperson from Indian MEA, Mr. Raveesh Kumar however insist that their map accurately depicts the sovereign territory of India and the new map in no manner has revised their boundary with Nepal. In contrast, former DG of Nepal’s Survey Department Buddhi Narayan Shrestha confirms that the strategic area which once served as a trade route between India and what is now southwestern China, was occupied by India after New Delhi withdrew its border forces following its war with China in 1962.
India shares border with Nepal from three sides. Many Nepali media have reported cases of border encroachments on the part of Indian parties in multiple border regions.Nepal claims that among 27 districts that share their border with Nepal, 72 places in 23 districts have been encroached. The Indian border encroachment and Nepal government’s lack of concern has impacted the lives of people living in borders. The people of Susta have been denied from building bridges or access to transportation while many report that the land they’ve been farming has now been taken by India.
Sandwiched between India and China, the Himalayan kingdom, with a total surface area of 147,181 square kilometers, has served admirably as a buffer between the two vast countries. India and China even went to war in 1962 over border disputes. Defining Nepal’s own territorial borders with its immense neighbors has often been a troublesome issue for the country of just 28.8 million, a very small number compared with China’s 1.4 billion and India’s 1.3 billion.
Apparently, border issues between Nepal and China ended when the late leader Mao Zedong agreed to respect Nepalese maps and their delineations, conceding the southern half of Mt. Everest to Nepal as a goodwill gesture. The boundary was scientifically delineated in 1983, with Chinese equipment and know-how and manpower from Nepal. Delineation work, however, remains incomplete at the tri-country junctions to the northwest and northeast where Nepal’s boundaries are supposed to meet those of India and China.
Sources now suggest that Nepal has informed India that any boundary dialogue on Kalapani will also concern China since it is the same unfinished area of demarcation on tri-junction where Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan (Chinese) borders meet. That’s the reason Nepal further suggests that talks to resolve this dispute must include China as well.
With release of new political map India seems to interfere in neighbor’s territory by overlooking the Sugauli Treaty signed between Nepal and the British East India Company in 1816. The treaty which indicated the Kali River as Nepal’s western boundary with India however made no mention of a ridgeline and subsequent maps of the areas drawn by British surveyors which showed the source of the Kali River at different places. This discrepancy has led to the boundary disputes between India and Nepal, with each country producing maps including the territory in their own area to support their claims. The exact size of the Kalapani territory also varies in different sources.
Now, in this situation where former has disregarded the Sugauli Treaty, the Nepalese experts claim that Nepal has every right as per the Nepal-India friendship Treaty of 1950 (Article 8) to demand the territories occupied by Nepal prior to signing of the Sugauli Treaty which goes as far as Kumaon and Gadhwal up to Sutlej in the West and River Teesta in the East which approaches territories up to almost Bhutan. Even some parts of present day Bangladesh was also a Nepali territory which will further disturb another neighboring country Bangladesh. Ignoring the 1816 Treaty will automatically bring back almost half of the present day Utter Pradesh (UP, India) to the legal jurisdiction of Nepal. Some portions of Bihar State too automatically come to the fold of Nepal. Historian also claim Nepal had approached and occupied lands up to the Sutlej River.
By far, India has border disputes with all her neighboring countries. Bangladesh under the government of Sheikh Hasina functions as her satellite state. China and Pakistan giver her an equal fight on different grounds but Nepal being the smaller and poor country is regularly bullied by India through continuously disregarding Nepal’s territorial sovereignty. International community must put her weight on Nepali side to protect her sovereignty. Moreover, this dispute, like Kashmir, is a legacy of British colonial times hence becomes the responsibility of Her Highness the Queen of Britain to solve the unfinished agenda of partition for once and all by getting all the countries party to the dispute on board and mark the international borders under UN supervision.