The 70km road linking India’s Pithoragarh with the Lipu Lekh Pass and ultimately to Kailash-Mansarovar to improve Sino-Indian connectivity has once more hurt Nepali sensibilities.
The first time was when President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached an understanding to boost their trans-Himalayan trade though various border passes, including Lipu Lekh Pass.
Lines on a map, Editorial
The India-Nepal-China geopolitical tri-junction, Kunda Dixit
Then in November last year, India further included in its official map, the region east of Lipu Khola as a part of its territory. The inauguration of the road last week was only the latest in a series of measures India has taken, ostensibly to make it easier for its pilgrims to go to Kailash-Mansarovar.
Nepal was not informed, nor was it a part of any talks that led to the India-China understanding when it has such a huge stake in the development of the Darchula region.
This is a touchy subject because for many Nepalis, the loss of a huge part of its territory in the 1816 Sugauli Treaty still rankles. Many Nepalis were not surprised by the Indian move, what was unexpected was that China would go along with it.
The link road passes through Nepali territory in the strategic Lipu Lekh valley at Kalapani where the Indian military has had barracks and checkposts since the 1962 Sino-Indian war.
There is precedent to settling Kalapani, Prabhakar Sharma
As has been repeatedly pointed out by historians, Nepal’s western border with British India at Kalapani was clearly defined according to the Sugauli Treaty with the East India Company and Nepal. Article 5 of this treaty states that Nepal is situated east of Mahakali (Kali) River with its source at Limpiyadhura.
Available 1816, 1827 maps and the 1850 and 1856 maps published by the British Survey of India clearly mark Limpiyadhura, Lipu Lekh and Kalapani as falling within Nepal. India says that the source of the Kali River is a smaller tributary that flows down from Lipu Lekh, this encroaches on approximately 372sq km of Nepali territory.
There have been numerous Indian map updates that show Lipu Lekh as the source of the Kali River. There have also been unilateral changes in toponyms on Indian maps which Nepal does not agree with.
According to international boundary principle where rivers are concerned, it is the ‘thalweg’, median line or the navigational channel that define the river boundary. If the river changes course then the position of the river in the initial epoch will be used as the boundary line, and demarcation will be carried out according to the coordinates of the original river boundary. GIS-based mapping software can easily identify the original boundary.
There have been numerous encroachments within Nepal’s land where the boundary river between Nepal and India has changed its course – especially in the Tarai. This is why it is important to map the Boundary Rivers using the latest GPS technology from time to time, but especially after natural disasters.
The ball is now in the court of Nepal’s politicians to come up with a solution to the Kalapani issue, but it will not happen overnight. There have to be high-level political, diplomatic and technical efforts to resolve it, and it should be carried out in an atmosphere of goodwill.
Nepal should take up the issue of the link road and the sharing of the tri-junction at Lipu Lekh so that it does not compromise on its territorial integrity with both India and China.
If there is a serious technical deadlock in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Nepal should be well prepared with the right documents and maps related to its demarcation after the Sugauli Treaty. The Topographic Survey of Nepal should set up their own archives of maps published in Britain from 1820 to 1846 by the East India Company, the maps of 1850 and 1856 published by the Survey of India and the maps at the Geography and Map Division at the Library of Congress to bolster Nepal’s claims to its territory.
Here, the resolution of how the seemingly intractable border dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon may serve as an example. In 2002, the ICJ determined that Cameroon was the rightful owner of the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula where there were at least 300,000 Nigerians, who at the time they made up 90% of the population.
This was a watershed moment in the resolution of the international border dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon. The Nigerian administration was returned to Cameroonian administration with full withdrawal of Nigerian troops.
Most of the boundary disputes between India and Nepal have been resolved through bilateral negotiations, the remaining 5% ‘disagreement areas’ including Kalapani should be resolved without further ado.