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SOURCE: Hindustan Times

Foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla will travel to Kathmandu later this month for a formal dialogue between the two countries, a sign that New Delhi is willing to go the extra mile to improve bilateral ties that nosedived earlier this year, people familiar with the matter said.

The decision to send the foreign secretary comes days after Indian Army chief General MM Naravane was conferred the honorary rank of general of the Nepali Army. Naravane met Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli who underscored that the two countries could resolve all problems between them through dialogue because they have a longstanding special relationship.

Oli faced resistance within his cabinet to Naravane’s visit but dealt with it, even withdrawing the defence portfolio from deputy prime minister Ishwar Pokhrel, according to people aware of the developments.

Naravane’s visit was considered crucial, particularly given that he was the first one in the Indian side to react to protests by Nepal’s government over a border road built in Uttarakhand. It was very possible that Nepal raised the issue at someone else’s behest, he said in May, a remark that was interpreted as implying that Beijing could have prodded Nepal to create a new boundary dispute.

It was not clear if Oli directly broached the topic when Naravane called on him last week.

People familiar with the discussions said Oli, who also holds the defence portfolio after shunting out Pokhrel, did make a pointed reference to the fallout of the row over Nepal’s political map, describing it as a “misunderstanding”. At the same time, he underlined that Nepal takes its sovereignty very seriously, a remark that is being seen in New Delhi as explaining his decision to issue a fresh political map.

During the two days – November 26 and 27 – that Shringla spends in Kathmandu, he is scheduled to hold meetings with his counterpart Bharat Raj Paudyal, who took charge just last month, and foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali. The career diplomat will also meet President Bidhya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister Oli during his visit.

Shringla’s conversations in Nepal are also expected to lead both sides to finalise the schedule for the meeting of the Joint Technical Level Boundary Committee.

Officials stressed that the boundary issue was going to be only one aspect of the visit. “This is not a single-agenda visit,” a senior diplomat said, pointing out that the visit could see India committing to help Nepal with coronavirus vaccines once its production begins. Also, the two sides will discuss the revival of the Pancheshwar multi-purpose project on river Mahakali as well as other hydro-electric projects.

India was holding off on Shringla’s visit for most of this year to convey New Delhi’s displeasure over the Nepal government’s move to issue a new political map that included a slice of land including the Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani areas to the west of Nepal. New Delhi rejected the map, brushing away what it said was Nepal’s effort at a cartographic expansion.

Nepal has been working at mollifying New Delhi for some time and withdrew school textbooks that contained the new political map. Last month, Research and Analysis Wing chief Samant Kumar Goel did the groundwork for restoring ties during his quiet visit to Nepal, according to the people quoted above.