A cabinet reshuffle effected by Nepal PM K P Oli, including a change in portfolio for defence minister Ishwor Pokharel, led to speculation that the pro-China leader might be signalling a softening of his government’s position on the border dispute with India.
Pokharel was seen not just as hostile to India but also as one of the ruling party leaders with a pronounced China tilt. Pokhrel had sought to provoke Gurkha soldiers in the Indian army after the army chief hinted at China’s role in Nepal’s protests against the construction of a border road to Lipulekh for Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims.
Pokharel, who was apparently not on good terms with the Nepal army, has been assigned to the powerful PMO. Official sources both here and in Kathmandu seemed guarded, and chose not to hazard a guess, when asked if this indeed was a climb-down by Oli.
Oli’s decision to relieve Pokharel from the ministry coincided though with the announcement by the Nepal army that the Indian army chief, MM Naravane, was going to visit Kathmandu next month. The MEA here didn’t respond to a query about the cabinet reshuffle with the spokesperson only saying that India has outlined conditions for the dialogue that Nepal wants with India.
Oli himself is seen by India as responsible for the damage caused to bilateral ties in recent times because of his decision to rush through the parliamentary process to validate Nepal’s new map that shows Indian territories in it.