NEW DELHI: India is facing a new territorial dispute with its northern neighbor, Nepal, which has published a political map that includes territory claimed by both countries.
The war of words between the two countries comes amid growing border tensions between New Delhi and China.
On Wednesday, Nepal published a political map showing the regions of Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh within its borders, with the country’s Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Oli saying that the areas “belong to Nepal and we have vowed to reclaim them through political and diplomatic efforts.”
New Delhi called the move a “unilateral act” and said it was “not based on historical facts and evidence.”
“Such artificial enlargement of territorial claims will not be accepted by India. We urge the government of Nepal to refrain from such unjustified cartographic assertion and respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Indian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said in a statement.
He urged the Nepalese to “create a positive atmosphere for diplomatic dialogue to resolve the outstanding boundary issues.”
The friction began in November, when New Delhi issued a new political map showing Kalapani and Lipulekh as part of its northern state of Uttrakhand and inaugurated a road linking it to the region.
Nepal claims the disputed area, citing an 1816 treaty with the British East India Company that set the Kali River as its boundary with India and the land lying east of it as Nepalese territory.
New Delhi claims that the area is part of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district.
Indian Foreign Ministry sources told Arab News that Nepal’s prime minister “is playing an anti-India card to whip up ultra-nationalistic emotions to settle domestic political scores.”
Amid a boundary dispute with China, Indian Army chief Gen. M.M. Naravane last week hinted that Nepal is objecting to the construction of the Lipulekh road at the “behest of someone else.”
India and China have accused each other of trespassing the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and both have sent troops to the border in the Ladakh area of Kashmir.
On Thursday, India blamed China for “hindering” Indian patrols at the border.
“All Indian activities are entirely on the Indian side of the LAC. In fact, it is Chinese side that has recently undertaken activity hindering India’s normal patrolling patterns,” the Foreign Ministry said, adding that New Delhi is “committed to work for the common objective of maintenance of peace and tranquillity in border areas.”
While opinions on Nepal’s move and its relations with China are divided, experts agree that diplomacy is needed to defuse the tension.
New Delhi-based Nepali journalist Suresh Raj said: “The misunderstanding should be settled at the diplomatic level, and it’s wrong to claim that Nepal is playing at the hands of China.”
A former Indian ambassador to Nepal, Jaynat Prasad, told Arab News: “The two countries should drop all formalities and sit down and try to defuse the situation as soon as possible. The more it festers, the more it will help create bad blood between India and Nepal.
“It reflects badly on us. We should remedy this. We solved far more complicated issues of land and maritime boundary disputes with Bangladesh only a few years ago. Compared with them, the issue with Nepal is small,” he said.
Pranay Kotasthane, of the Bangalore-based think tank Takshashila Institution, said: “The Lipulekh-Kalapani issue itself is not news and has been discussed between India and Nepal many times. But publishing a new map now after the road to Lipulekh was completed is an escalation. Nepal is able to do this because it knows it can play China off against India and get better outcomes from both.
“Smaller neighbors will try to play off China and India. But they realize that India is the only big power in the immediate vicinity.
“In terms of strategy, I don’t think this will have a long-term impact. India’s growth benefits all its neighbors. Ultimately, it is power — economic and military — that will make India a bigger player,” he added.