Nepal can broker peace between China and India over Doklam standoff: Upadhyaya

Surya Nath Upadhyaya is a member of the Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) from Nepal’s side. The EPG has a two-year term, and it has already spent one year in discussing mainly the disputed Articles of the 1950 India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Experts from the two nations are still deliberating on the treaty that has been widely considered unequal for Nepal. In his interview to The Rising Nepal, Upadhyaya declined to comment much on the works of the EPG as the two sides have been only mandated to make joint recommendations to the two governments for improving bilateral relations.   
Upadhyaya was also a member of the negotiating team involved in inking the Mahakali Treaty between Nepal and India more than two decades ago. But the two sides have yet to get down to business to implement the project. The TRN tried to get his insights with regard to the treaty in view of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s visit to India in the near future. Upadhyaya was candid about the Treaty that had once rocked Nepali politics. He sees India’s hesitancy behind the delay in constructing the much-talked about project. He also spoke his mind about the ongoing Doklam dispute. TRN’s Ritu Raj Subedi and Modnath Dhakal talked to Upadhyaya on a wide-range of issues pertaining to Nepal and India relationship. Excerpts. Suryanath-Upadhyay

 

Would you highlight the progress of the Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG)?
Altogether four meetings of the EPG were held in the past one year. Meetings are held every three months alternatively in India and Nepal. We have been discussing about the treaties and agreements on trade, transit and water resources signed so far. The EPG has been mandated to prepare a joint report with recommendations and submit it to both the governments. We have another year. It seeks to resolve the bilateral issues related to past agreement and treaties.

What is Nepal’s position on the 1950 Treaty?
I don’t have any idea about the position of the government, but we are still holding discussions. It is too early to form any opinion, but I am hopeful that there will be some practical recommendations at the end of the day.

But India has asked Nepal to furnish the clauses of the treaty that the latter considers to be unequal.
Every Article of the treaty is being discussed. We are soliciting inputs from various sections of society, including experts and diplomats, too. The EPG has not yet reached any conclusion.

What happens if there is disagreement or contradiction between the two groups?
Since the EPGs have a two-year term, we are only through halfway. We have not faced such a situation so far. I think we are going smoothly and hope will be so in the future, too.

More than two decades have elapsed since Nepal and India signed the Integrated Mahakali Treaty, but even the Detailed Project Report (DPR) to implement it has not been prepared. What is your take on it?
I was in the negotiation team when the Treaty was signed. The problem and confusion surfaced because of different explanations of the treaty by the two sides. We don’t want to give India what it has demanded. The treaty talks about sharing the water of the river and benefits from it. But, India says it has been using the water since time immemorial, so it’s not ready to share the benefits. India has built the Sharada canal about 160 kilometres downstream but says that as it has been using it for many decades, it does not want to calculate the benefits it is getting from the irrigation system. Nepal wants India to pay for the benefits it is obtaining.
Likewise, the two countries also differ on the size of the dam and the capacity of the electricity to be installed. The two countries are confused about benefit sharing. The Treaty says that the party that earns a higher profit should invest more in the construction of the project, but India does not want to show its profits. That’s the crux of the matter.

The Mahakali Treaty had been a highly controversial issue, which even split the CPN-UML. It is said that Nepal sacrificed a large piece of land while inking the Treaty.
No. Eighty per cent of the land to be used for building the hydropower project belongs to India while Nepal will have to sacrifice only 20 per cent. A huge part of Indian land will be submerged. And the Treaty recognises the Mahakali as a border river between the two countries. However, there are problems as India disputes the origin of the Mahakali River.

It is here worth mentioning that the Mahakali Treaty was signed during the premiership of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. He is visiting India soon. What suggestion do you have for PM Deuba regarding the Treaty, which is likely to figure during his visit to India?
The PM should convince India that as it will benefit more from the project, it should invest more, and we should leave the issue of the Sharada canal because many other rivers also flow into the Mahakali. Nepal should also ask India not to reduce the hydropower capacity of the Pancheshwor. The capacity of the dam should not be reduced. Even if the dam is built, India will continue to benefit from the water of the river. We will have irrigation facility on only 94,000 hectares of land. India will also gain from flood management and water supply during dry season.

It’s been said that India has not shown interest in anything other than water.
No. India does have an interest. Therefore, the project office has been established. However, we can say that India has more interest in water than electricity. India will get more benefits from water than electricity in the case of Pancheshwor, too. PM Deuba should ask India to invest in the project also for water, which it’s using from the river.

Should Nepal invest 50 per cent in the project?
Nepal does not have the resources to invest 50 per cent in the project.

What about the border disputes between the two nations? Have the EPGs ever held discussion on it?
We have not begun discussion on the border disputes. There is dispute on about 3 per cent of our border areas. Border disputes remain in Kalapani and Susta. In the case of Kalapani, the Indian Army is occupying Nepal’s land. So Nepal and China have not yet demarcated the tri-junction point. Nepal says that the border point is much higher than Kalapani. We claim that Limpiyadhura is Nepal’s border point from where runs the Kali River.

Of late, anti-Indian sentiments are running high in Nepal, especially after the Indian blockade in 2015. Have the EPG members thought about reducing the anti-Indian feelings here?
It is not our topic. We are concentrated on the treaties and agreements, not on sentiments. We are for a balanced relationship between the two neighbours. Options are open to make improvements and move ahead.

What stand should Nepal take on the Doklam standoff?
As in the past, Nepal should stay neutral as we did in the 1962 Sino-India war. The two countries fought a war, but we stayed silent. The government has already expressed its views on the Doklam standoff. But we should not remain silent when there is encroachment upon our land.

Do you see any role of Nepal in reducing the tension over this dispute?
Nepal has no other option but to ‘watch and see’. But, since the dispute may affect the entire region, our leadership can initiate some proactive steps.

Given Nepal’s unique geographical position, can’t it bring the two sides to the negotiating table to end the tension?
It is possible. Nepal can broker peace talks between the two nations. It depends on the capacity of our leadership.

What should Nepal do if the two conflicting nations press Nepal to side with them?
We are not in a position to take a side. And our neighbours must not press their small neighbour to do so. Both the neighbours may want Nepal to support their stand, but they understand our position. If they pile up pressure on us, we should outright reject it.

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