Monday 20th May 2024
Monday 20th May 2024
गृहपृष्ठSpecialCan Indian Army Chief Naravane visit help repair Nepal-India relations strained by border disputes?

Can Indian Army Chief Naravane visit help repair Nepal-India relations strained by border disputes?

The visit is not going to be limited to the ceremonious conferment of honorary title and handover of military support. Similar to during the unofficial Indian blockade in 2015, the governments between the two countries are tapping military ties to pull diplomacy back on track and resolve bilateral disputes

KATHMANDU – Indian Chief of the Army Staff General Manoj Mukund Naravane is making a three-day visit to Nepal beginning from November 4. Both the Nepal Army and the Indian Army have already confirmed the official visit of the Indian Army Chief.

He will be visiting Nepal after nearly two weeks following the visit of Indian RAW Chief Samant Goel. However, the Indian Army Chief’s visit had been fixed before the arrival of Goel.

The preparation of Navarane’s first visit to Nepal has intensified. He is also scheduled to hand over huge military support to the Nepal Army during his visit. The four-member team led by the Indian Army Chief will be arriving in Kathmandu on November 4. According to the Nepal Army, the Indian Army Chief will call on President Bidhya Devi Bhandari as well as Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. He is also expected to hold extensive talks with civilian and military leaders during his visit.

Although the Government of Nepal on February 3 had first approved Naravane’s visit to Nepal at the invitation of his Nepali counterpart Purna Chandra Thapa, it had been postponed due to lockdown in both countries. While the postponement was attributed to the lockdown, sources say bitter relations between the two countries over border issues had also played a part in it.

Earlier on May 15, Naravane added fuel to the fire by giving a controversial statement that Nepal was objecting to India’s roadwork at Lipulekh on ‘someone else’s behest’–an indirect reference alleged to Chinese interference.

After the statement, the Nepali side showed further reluctance to agree on a date for the visit of the Indian Army Chief. However, the recent resumption of the dialogue at the government level has paved the way for preparation of his visit.

According to a source at the Nepal Army, the date was fixed after the Indian Army repeatedly made requests for the visit. Although the Indian Army Chief will be visiting Nepal to receive the honorary rank of the ‘General of the Nepal Army’ as part of age-old mutual tradition, he is also scheduled to hold talks with top civilian and military leaders.

Additionally, he is set to hold one-on-ones as well as bilateral meetings with his Nepali counterpart Thapa. Nepal Army Chief Thapa, who completed his National Defence Course in India, has already received the honorary rank of General of the Indian Army last year.

As part of the age-old military tradition, army chiefs of each other’s country are conferred with the honorary rank. However, Naravane is yet to receive the honorary title of the Nepal Army even after eight months of taking command of the Indian Army in December last year.

The Indian Army has already extended some support to the Nepal Arm, including providing 10 ventilators even before his visit. During his visit, Naravane is preparing to give more ventilators and other materials to two hospitals, according to a Nepal Army source.

“We are preparing to provide medical support worth Rs 400 to Rs 500 million as well as vehicles and other equipment to the Nepal Army. Those supports will be handed over during the Army Chief’s visit to Nepal. If they could not be handed over during his Nepal trip, the support would be announced during the visit and delivered later,” a source at the Indian Army told Kathmandu Pati.

During the meetings with his Nepali counterpart, Naravane is expected to discuss matters related to strengthening military ties between the two countries and making joint military exercise more effective as well as regional and international security issues. The Indian Army Chief is also scheduled to address student officers at the Army Command and Staff College in Shivapuri.

The visit of the Indian Army Chief comes amid strained ties between the two countries over border issues. The tension between two countries had escalated after Indian Defence Minister on May 8 inaugurated through a video conference the road between Dharchula to Lipulekh, a Nepali territory.

In response to Indian claims on Nepali territories, Nepal published its own new map including Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura on May 20. The parliament unanimously approved the amendment of the constitution to update the new map in the emblem of the country. Nepal’s southern neighbor has been turning down all diplomatic and political requests for dialogues since it released its new and revised map.

Naravane’s visit is also expected to help thaw relations between the two countries who have turned bitter in recent months over border disputes.

Earlier in 2015 when India imposed an unofficial blockade to vent anger for ignoring its advice while promulgating the constitution, the then Nepal Army Chief Rajendra Chhetri had visited India and reportedly persuaded the top Indian civilian and military brass to resume the dialogues at the government level.

At that time, KP Oli was the Prime Minister of Nepal, and who tapped into the army channel to normalize tensiona with the southern neighbor.

Chhetri, the then army chief and Himalaya Thapa, a major general, had been deployed to persuade the Indian government through the Indian Army to resume the dialogue.

Many see the Nepal Army Chief Thapa in the role of interlocutor this time. Although the apparent purpose of the visit is the conferment of the honorary title as part of the age-old tradition, the Indian Army Chief’s trip to Nepal is considered to be a step toward ending the six-month long bilateral stand-off and bringing the friendly ties of two countries back into the track.

According to some experts, the visit also offers the Indian Army Chief an opportunity to rebuild his reputation that was at stake due to the controversial statement he made about Nepal.

Prime Minister Oli helped him to become comfortable to visit Nepal by removing Deputy Prime Minister Ishwor Pokhrel from the post of Defence Minister. Defence Minister Pokharel had immediately rebuffed Naravane’s controversial statement and termed the suggestion insulting. Ahead of the visit of the Indian Army Chief, Prime Minister Oli has retained the defence ministry portfolio with himself.

According to a Baluwatar source, Prime Minister Oli plans to appoint Top Bahadur Rayamajhi as the new Defence Minister after the return of the Indian Army Chief Naravane. Nepal Army Chief Thapa is reportedly positive towards the Prime Minister’s plan.

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