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Army Chief Gen MM Naravane arrives in Nepal on crucial visit

KATHMANDU (PTI): Army chief Gen MM Naravane arrived in Nepal on Wednesday on a three-day crucial visit that is largely aimed at resetting the bilateral ties that came under severe strain following a bitter border row.

Gen Naravane is visiting Nepal at the official invitation of Nepal Army chief Gen Purna Chandra Thapa.

He is accompanied by his wife Veena Naravane, who is the chairperson of the Army Wives Welfare Association (AWWA) of the Indian Army.

They were received by the Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen Prabhu Ram, upon arrival at the Tribhuvan International Airport around noon.

The Nepali Army believes that exchange of such high-level visits and continuation of tradition helps in strengthening relations between the two armies, contributing to enhancing the relationship between the two countries, reads a statement issued by the Nepal Army.

Gen Naravane on Tuesday said he was eagerly looking forward to the visit and exuded confidence that it will go a long way in strengthening the "bonds of friendship" between the armies of the two countries.

His engagements in Nepal include a visit to the headquarters of the Nepalese Army, an address to the young military officers at Nepali Army's Staff College and attending a banquet to be hosted in his honour by Chief of Nepalese Army Gen Purna Chandra Thapa.

He will hold formal talks with his Nepalese counterpart at the Nepal Army headquarters on Thursday.

The Indian Army Chief will be conferred with the honorary rank of General of Nepal Army by President Bidya Devi Bhandari amidst a special ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

He will also pay a courtesy call on President Bhandari after the ceremony on Thursday. He is scheduled to meet Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli on Friday.

India's decision to send the Army chief to Nepal to reset the ties is seen as part of a larger exercise by New Delhi to rejuvenate relations with Myanmar, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Afghanistan in the wake of greater efforts by China to expand its influence in the region.

The ties between the two countries came under strain after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an 80-km-long strategically crucial road connecting the Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand on May 8.

Diplomats and experts here have maintained a cautious approach about the visit of Indian Army chief.

Security and foreign policy experts have termed Naravane's visit as another milestone in the progress of India-Nepal ties, saying that it will set Nepal-India ties back on track by creating a conducive environment for other high-level engagements between the two neighbours, reported.

Dinesh Bhattarai, a former ambassador, said Naravane's visit will not only provide Nepal with an opportunity to read the Indian mindset but also set the tone for future bilateral engagements, particularly concerning the boundary dispute.

The visit of the Indian Army chief gives us an opportunity to read the Indian mind and what they are thinking about advancing the ties. It would be better to understand the Indian position, Bhattarai told the Kathmandu Post.

Rajan Bhattarai, the foreign relations advisor to Prime Minister Oli, told the Post the visit shows that bilateral ties are heading towards a normal direction.

Though we have some differences, our other engagements with India are very much on track. Other issues like trade, commerce, business, transit and agriculture are on track, said Bhattarai.

This shows, despite having differences in one issue, our ties with India are moving at a normal pace. Our ties with India have gained maturity. The visit of the Indian Army chief will create a positive atmosphere to further strengthen our ties, he said.

Others feel that the Nepali side should also be heedful not to give the responsibility of resolving the bilateral dispute to the military leadership.

Nepal protested the inauguration of the road connecting the Lipulekh pass with Dharchula, claiming that it passed through its territory.

Days later, Nepal came out with the new map showing Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura as its territories.

After Nepal released the map, India reacted sharply, calling it a "unilateral act" and cautioning Kathmandu that such "artificial enlargement" of territorial claims will not be acceptable to it.

In June, Nepal's Parliament approved the new political map of the country featuring areas which India maintains belong to it.

India termed as untenable the "artificial enlargement" of territorial claims by the neighbouring country.

India said Nepal's action violates an understanding reached between the two countries to resolve the boundary issues through talks.

Nepal Prime Minister Oli has been asserting that Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura belong to Nepal and vowed to "reclaim" them from India.

The Lipulekh pass is a far western point near Kalapani, a disputed border area between Nepal and India.

Both India and Nepal claim Kalapani as an integral part of their territory – India as part of Uttarakhand's Pithoragarh district and Nepal as part of Dharchula district.


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