A government team consisting of Army has been quietly measuring Nepal’s border with India

KATHMANDU (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - In response to the Kalapani fiasco with India in November, the government had formed a team to study the border with both India and China.

Ever since the release of India’s new political map that placed Kalapani within its borders, the Nepal government has taken a lot of flak for failing to do anything of substance to press India on its cartographic incursion.

The KP Sharma Oli government might not have said much publicly but the Post has learned that two teams, consisting of representatives from various ministries as well as the Nepal Army, have been quietly measuring Nepal’s border, paying special attention to disputed areas.

The government, a year ago, had already formed separate entities within the Nepal Army headquarters to monitor activities along the border. But after the release of India’s new political map in November, two separate teams were formed to inspect Nepal’s borders with India and China, said Nepal Army officials.

The team assigned to the Indian border is led by Yagya Bahadur Hamal, joint secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The team has already conducted four rounds of inspections of the southern border and is going to the Sudurpaschim Province on Wednesday for a final round of inspection, said Prakash Joshi, director-general at the Survey Department, who is also a part of the team.

Upon completion of the technical team’s inspection of the southern border, another team will conduct a similar inspection along the northern border with China in the month of May. This team will be led by the joint secretary who is in charge of the China Division at the Foreign Ministry.

Although there hasn’t been much of a boundary dispute with China, Nepal has numerous concerns regarding the border it shares with India. Despite several rounds of meetings and commitments to address issues along the border, the two countries have yet to find an amicable solution.

Nepal and India have jointly prepared 182 sheets of strip maps of their border, which do not include the disputed areas of Susta and Kalapani. The issue of Kalapani flared up late last year after India released a new political map in line with the Narendra Modi government’s decision to repeal the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir. The new map includes Kalapani, which Nepal claims as its territory, within Indian borders.

The Nepal Army’s role in monitoring the border has been reinstated after nearly 40 years, with the formation of a Survey and Boundary Monitoring Directorate in August last year. During the Panchayat, the Nepal Army had a role in looking after boundary-related issues. This responsibility had been taken away following the restoration of democracy in 1990.

Santa Bahadur Sunar, spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence, confirmed that the Nepal Army had created its own institution to look after various boundary-related issues and that it had become a part of the technical committee formed under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“As per the decision of the government, our representative has been inducted into a team led by a joint secretary from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” said Nepal Army Spokesperson Brigadier General Bigyan Dev Pandey. “Separately, we have also formed a Survey and Boundary Monitoring Directorate to monitor the boundary on both sides on a regular basis. The directorate will work under the Directorate of Military Operations and has formed four separate entities.”

The new Army entity will have two research wings where researchers will have access to the yellow zone at the directorate to do any kind of research on Nepal’s boundary history. They will not be permitted to enter the red zone where classified documents are kept, said Pandey.

At present, the directorate has 70 officials working in four different clusters.

According to security experts, the lack of coordination between ministries and government agencies has led the government to bring in the Nepal Army.

“There is a lack of coordination between the security and civilian agencies that are currently engaged in boundary-related issues,” said Dipak Prakash Bhatta, a parliamentarian from the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) who is well-versed on security matters. “The Nepal Army is likely to fill that void.”

As of now, government entities like the Survey Department, the Armed Police Force and the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Home, and Land Management were involved in overseeing the border.

Nepal and India have a joint Boundary Working Group which handles matters like the installation of border pillars with GPS, maintenance of border pillars, clearance of no-man's land, and cross-holdings of property. The Boundary Working Group meets every year, alternating between India and Nepal.

“Since the Nepal Army is tasked with taking the lead on national security and its role in protecting national territory is pivotal, it has been given this role,” said Geja Sharma Wagle, who writes extensively on security-related matters.

As soon as India released the new political map, which created a nationwide uproar, the government had formed two committees at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to look into the status of the border and the number of boundary encroachments. The joint secretaries from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Home, Defence, Land Reform, Water Resources, and a Nepal Army brigadier general were each members of those two committees.

One of the major tasks of the new Army directorate is to collect evidence and other vital correspondence related to the boundary with both neighbours, as several government institutions have complained that it is difficult to find original copies of major treaties with several countries.

Government officials have already admitted that several vital original documents, like the Sugauli Treaty and the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship with India, are either missing or have made their way to foreign museums and libraries.

Officials said that Nepal Army is only inspecting the border and taking stock of the situation. It is not deployed on the front in guarding the southern and northern borders, said government officials. That responsibility still rests with the Armed Police Force.

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