Less than a week after Nepal objected to a new road being built by India, the army chief, General MM Naravane, suggested that it is in fact China that is creating a flashpoint between Delhi and Katmandu. “I don’t know what they are actually agitating about. There is a reason to believe that they might have raised this problem at the behest of someone else and that is very much a possibility,” the chief said today.
Speaking at an online conference organised by the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, a New Delhi-based think-tank, Gen Naravane said the east of the Kali river is Nepalese territory while its west is Indian territory. “There is no dispute about that. The road we have built is west of the river.”
Last Friday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated via video link the 80-kilometre road from Uttarakhand to the Lipulekh pass high in the Himalaya. The pass is claimed by Nepal based on an 1816 treaty that defines its western border with India which has rejected that stand as also Kathmandu’s claim that the adjoining area of Kalapani is part of its territory.
Nepal’s foreign ministry last week condemned work on the new road as a “unilateral act” that “runs against the understanding reached between the two countries… that a solution to boundary issues would be sought through negotiations.” It had also summoned the Indian Ambassador to register a protest.
The Army Chief’s apparent references to China as causing the tension with Nepal comes as troops from India and China have clashed in Ladakh and Sikkim. However, the chief said these aggressions were not a point of major alarm. “You are coming to know where face-off has occurred. Daily, we are meeting at 10 different places which is absolutely business as normal. It is only at one or two places where this has happened. And this does happen from time to time. It also happens when there is a change of commanders on ground,” he said.