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Nepal Foreign Minister Gyawali in New Delhi to discuss Covid-19 co-operation, border issue

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Nepali Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali arrived in the Indian capital on Thursday for a two-day visit expected to focus on Covid-19 vaccine procurement and development co-operation, though Kathmandu has also signaled its intention to raise the border line.

Gyawali will meet his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar for talks on Friday, and the two ministers will chair a meeting of the joint bilateral commission. This will be only the sixth meeting of the body since 1987, although it has met four times since 2014. Gyawali was also scheduled to hold several private meetings on Thursday.

The minister is the oldest Nepalese leader to visit India in more than a year after the Covid-19 explosion. He is also the first leader to visit New Delhi since Nepal’s Prime Minister Sharma Oli sparked political unrest by dissolving parliament last month and calling early elections in April-May.

The Gyawalis delegation includes both the foreign secretary and the health secretary, reflecting the focus on Covid-19 co-operation. Although Nepal has officially arrived in India and China for vaccines, Kathmandu has shown a preference for taking doses from New Delhi due to factors such as price, logistics and well-established links between the two countries’ health sectors.

People familiar with the developments said on condition of anonymity that Nepal hopes India will provide vaccines to help inoculate a portion of the 12 million population it plans to cover in its first phase of vaccinations. Nepal also plans to buy millions of doses from foreign suppliers, including the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech.

Read also | Nepali Prime Minister Oli vows to take the Kalapani region from India through talks

The Indian side has said the country’s ability to export vaccines as it meets domestic needs will become clear in the coming weeks. Officials have also said India’s neighbors will have priority in supplying vaccines.

Indo-Nepal ties were overshadowed by a border dispute last year after the Olis government unveiled a new political map that included Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh, which are part of Indian territory. The map was published in response to India’s opening of a strategic road to Lipulekh, located on the border with China.

In a statement announcing Gyawalis’ visit on Tuesday, the Nepalese Foreign Ministry said the joint commission meeting would discuss the range of bilateral relations, including trade, transit, energy, border, Covid-19 co-operation, infrastructure, connectivity, investments, agriculture, tourism, culture, among others.

The people mentioned above said that India had made its position on the border line very clear, the foreign ministry last year described the new map of Nepal as an unjustified cartographic assertion and the stance had not changed. They added that the focus of the next meeting will be on advancing development co-operation, including India-supported projects in Nepal.

With Oli currently heading an interim government, there is unlikely to be any substantive movement on the border issue, people said. One option both sides could look at is to ask the bilateral border working group to reconsider the border issue to help end the border in the disputed parts of Kalapani and Susta, people added.

Prior to Olis’s surprise decision to dissolve Parliament, normalcy was restored to bilateral relations by visits back to Kathmandu last year by research and analysis wing chief Samant Goel, Indian Army chief General MM Naravana and Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla.

Gyawali is also expected to brief the Indian side on political developments in Nepal. India has kept a close eye on China’s efforts to reach an understanding between Oli and its main rival, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, in order to keep the Communist Party of Nepal united.

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