Legitimacy of Lipulekh Pass
By Buddhi Narayan Shrestha
There was a series of Agreement/MOU/Memoranda/Protocol during the recent visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to India. ‘Protocol on modalities for the implementation of confidence building measures in the military field along the line of actual control in the India-China border areas’ is one of them. In one of the sub-sections of the protocol, it is said ‘both sides agree in principle to expand the mechanism of border meeting points to include Kibithu-Damai in the eastern sector and Lipulekh Pass/Qiang La in the middle sector. The precise locations of these border meeting points will be decided through mutual consultations.’
The main intention of joint meeting is to minimize tensions between the two militaries and increase interactions between them, since border military personnel of the two sides may not happen to be in a face-to-face situation due to differences on the alignment of the line of actual control (LAC) in the border areas.
In the Nepalese perspective, there could be a question whether India and China need to obtain Nepal’s consent to hold meetings between their military forces at Lipulekh Pass ?
Lipulekh Pass is located at Nepal-China borderline however, Indian para-military force has occupied it since 1962. As the historical maps depict Nepal-China borderline runs not only to Lipulekh Pass including Kalapani area, but also extends westward up to Limpiyadhura.
If we have a look on the history of Sino-Indian border dispute, there was a brief but fierce fighting border war from October 20 to November 21, 1962. During the border war in the western sector, the Chinese forces marched up to the borderline shown in the Chinese maps ever since the Manchu Dynasty. India’s option was to defend on the McMahon Line as its northern boundaryline. The Chinese all-out counter-attacked along the entire Sino-Indian border. So Indian forces were compelled to retard back by heavy attack of the Chinese army. In connection to the Sino-Indian border war, the then Prime Minister Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru had said ‘Indian forces have been moving back bravely.’
When the loosing Indian military men were retarding back, they visualized Lipulekh Pass as a strategic point (5,029 m) located at the Nepalese frontier. They established a small camp at Kalapani area, ten kilometer west of Lipulekh. It is notable that there is a hillock (6,180 m) as a sensitive place at Kalapani. If someone gazes from this hillock, it could be recognized even posture and colour of men who have been travelling through Lipulekh Pass, so that the Indian army would be alert as per situation. In due course of time India deployed army battalions and constructed ten brick-built barrack houses with heating system and underground bunkers and three more buildings at Kalapani. There are modern arms and ammunitions including satellite communications.
The Nepalese nationals are not allowed to enter into Kalapani area and Lipulekh Pass, even those who go to Manasarowar and Kailash Parbat for pilgrimage. They are not permitted to cross Mathillo Kawa. They are diverted to trek through Tinkar Pass to Manasarowar. It has a great implication on Nepal’s territorial integrity. It is mysterious that Nepalese national could not travel through its sovereign land.
Regarding the issue of Lipulekh and Kalapani area, Nepal is in a sense negligent and heedless. It is not yet delineated the origination of river Mahakali, as the treaty of Sugauli-1816 says: Kali is the western border of Nepal with India. Nepal-India joint technical level boundary committee is working for the last twenty-three years but it is not ventured to delineate the source of the river.
In this scenario it will not be a diplomatically sound basis for China and India to fix their border meeting points at Lipulekh Pass to enhance confidence building measures in their military field. It is because of the reasons that Lipulekh belongs to Nepal in view of i) the internal details of historic maps of 1827 and 1856 published by British Survey of India. It was prepared during more or less close to the treaty of Sugauli. ii) the then Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Zeng Xu Yong has said ‘three decades and a half ago, when Nepal and China signed border agreement, Lipulekh pass was designated as the tri-junction between Nepal, India and China, according to which Kalapani area belongs to Nepal. However, during the agreement, older facts and evidences that extended Nepalese border to Limpiyadhura, the origin of Mahakali River, were largely ignored’ (Kantipur Daily, September 3, 1999). iii) the then Prime Minister of India I. K. Gujaral has said ‘as regards Kalapani, the technicians from both sides are engaged in the demarcation of border. If their reports conclude that the area belongs to Nepal, we will immediately withdraw from there’ (Gorkhpatra Daily, February 24, 1997). iv) tri-junctions (on both western and eastern segments) have not yet been demarcated due to India’s absence during Nepal-China border demarcation and Boundary Treaty-1961. v) issue of Lipulekh and Kalapani raised during Nepal-India joint border working group meetings, has not yet been resolved. The minute has been signed jointly mentioning that Nepal has strongly presented that ‘Kalapani belongs to Nepal.’ vi) Nepal-India joint press statement (March 23, 2002) during Nepalese Prime Minister’s visit to India says ‘the prime ministers also directed the joint working group of the joint technical-level boundary committee to expeditiously complete its examination of the facts relating to the alignment of the boundary in the western sector, including the Kalapani area, and in other pockets, where there were differences in perceptions of the two sides.’ vii) Nepal-India proposed joint global positioning survey and strip-mapping have not yet materialized due to controversy on the origination of the river Kali. Nepal seeks the spirit of the treaty of Sugauli and application of watershed principle to determine the source of river.
With all these facts and figures, Sino-Indian border meeting points must not take place at Lipulekh Pass or Kalapani (ten kilometers west of the pass). Because both the countries do not have the sovereign rights on Kalapani area. It seems that Taklakot of China (eight km from Lipulekh) should be the meeting place to enhance confidence building measures in their military field, since it is the business between India and China. It is because there is a provision in the said protocol that the precise locations of border meeting points could be decided through mutual consultations.
One important aspect is that China and India are not going to talk on the border dispute at Lipulekh Pass. It is only a confidence building measures in the military field. It is memorable that India-China Technical Level Joint Boundary Committee has not yet formed, since fifteen rounds of talk have been taken place between two countries.
However, China-India border meeting point at Lipulekh Pass for military confidence building is on the contrary of Nepal-China Boundary Treaty-1961. China should be careful on this matter to maintain the principle of Panchasheel. It is remarkable that in the case of China and Nepal, both the countries have agreed that ‘each side will no longer dispatch armed personnel to patrol the area on its side within twenty kilometers of the border’ as mentioned in the Article-IV of Sino-Nepal Boundary Agreement-1960.
Nepal belongs the most important role on this current issue. Government must conduct the diplomatic role. It must approach China reminding the policy and principle taken during China-Nepal border demarcation. At the same time it has to convince China expressing clear view of Nepal based on the historical and documented facts. Nepal must show its national interest on the territorial integrity and security of the nation.
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