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First EPG meeting ends on high note

KATHMANDU. The first meeting of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) on Nepal-India Relations (NIR) concluded on Tuesday with the two sides having different approaches—if not completely divergent views—at redefining age-old ties between the two countries.

While the Nepali side remained focused on reviewing the Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 and taking immediate measures for trust building, its Indian counterpart looked keen to explore broader areas in terms of specific programmes. The Nepali side believes the 1950 agreement underpins the asymmetry between the two countries and that the “mother treaty” needs revision in view of the changed political and regional context. Indian EPG members, in the meantime, want to discuss economic cooperation like connectivity, infrastructure, energy, trade and commerce, information and communication “to take the bilateral ties to new heights”.

Giving the broader outline and mandate of the EPG and agenda of the meeting for the next two years, Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, co-chair and member of the Nepali side, said there was enormous zeal in both sides to take the bilateral ties to new heights.

The EPG on NIR aims to look into the totality of Nepal-India relations from independent, non-governmental perspectives and suggest measures to further expand and consolidate the close and multifaceted relations between the two countries.

The Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 opens with “the two governments agree mutually to acknowledge and respect the complete sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of each other” but some of its articles have been criticised by many, who say the treaty is not only outdated but absolutely irrelevant in the changed context.

Though the Nepali side made a pitch for “revision of treaties”, it did face slight criticism for “failing to come up with specifics”. Bhagat Singh Koshyari, also the co-chair and a member of the Indian, told reporters after the conclusion of the EPG meeting that the Nepali side “has not come yet about what kind of changes it wants in the [1950] treaty”. However, he said that India was ready to replace or update the treaties.

Three Indian EPG members stressed that the EPG should be more forward-looking one and that bilateral relations should be based on cooperation in development sectors, economic exchanges, infrastructure and connectivity. “We want to come up with a visionary paper that caters to the aspirations of our peoples after 35 years,” said Mahendra P Lama, a member from the India side.

The eight-member group has been entrusted with the responsibility of putting together a mutually agreed document within two years to suggest ways to strengthen bilateral ties in view of evolving regional dynamics and world order. The EPG has the mandate to look into five broad areas of the Nepal-India ties—political relations, government-to-government ties, development cooperation, economic exchanges and social and cultural relations.

“Our relations start with people-to-people ties and go all the way to partnership, connectivity, infrastructure and development,” said Jayanta Prasad, an EPG member and former Indian ambassador to Nepal. “We need to expand the habit of cooperation and friendship.”

Some of the Nepali experts agree that the EPG should focus on trade and investment. “Political relations are fine, but our modality of future cooperation with India should be based on trade and investment,” said Govinda Raj Pokhrel, former vice-chairman of the National Planning Commission.

The next meeting will take place in India after three months where the two sides will come up with respective five agendas.

Despite different approaches from the two sides, the EPG meeting, however, itself was an achievement, as it has brought the much-talked about and widely debated issue on the table.

 

The Kathmandu Post, 6 June 2016, 10.00

 

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