India and Nepal to hold high-level talks

Nepali Foreign Minister Shankar Das Bairagi and Vinay Mohan Kwatra, India’s envoy to Nepal, will meet in Kathmandu today to

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Photo: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Nepali Foreign Minister Shankar Das Bairagi and Vinay Mohan Kwatra, India’s envoy to Nepal, will meet in Kathmandu today to review bilateral infrastructural development projects.

Relations between the traditional Himalayan allies have soured in recent years over Nepal’s pivot to China in its foreign policy. Nepali Prime Minister K.P. Sharma-Oli’s acceptance of Chinese Belt and Road (BRI) investment in Nepal—specifically, a $300 million railway linking the two countries—aims to diversify trade and reduce Nepal’s traditional reliance on India, as 65% of landlocked trade is conducted via Indian ports. Friction has escalated in recent months over a new government-sponsored map from Kathmandu, which recognises certain Indian territories as Nepali land.

Although both governments have downplayed tensions before today’s meeting, the rising friction between New Delhi and Kathmandu will likely require delicate diplomacy. Expect Bairagi to attempt to isolate border differences from bilateral projects under review. India’s development projects are unlikely to be cancelled or delayed due to the recent border tensions, as they constitute a significant source of Indian influence in Nepal. However, Oli could be pressured to resign by domestic criticism of his COVID-19 handling—as well as China-centric policies—from both the governing Communist Party and pro-Indian opposition parties.

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