A much-awaited meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Commission failed to make any progress on issues facing the South Asian neighbors, say analysts, as India’s external affairs minister wrapped up a two-day visit Thursday.
S. Jaishankar, who was appointed the top foreign ministry official in May, participated in the meeting in Kathmandu, which was tasked with resolving bilateral issues including trade and transit, water sharing and economic cooperation.
During his trip to Nepal, Jaishankar, who previously served as India’s foreign secretary, called upon President Bidhya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli and held meetings with politicians.
The ministerial-level meeting was expected to resolve longstanding bilateral issues such as monsoon flooding along the open border, which displaced hundreds of people this year, and slow progress with infrastructure projects that India has pledged to carry out in Nepal.
“The Indian minister hardly spent an hour in the joint meeting, which touched on several issues but failed to find any common ground,” said Santosh Ghimire, a Nepali journalist who covers foreign affairs for the Republica newspaper.
Ghimire said the Indian side not only lacked preparation but also seemed pre-occupied with the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, where tensions have risen following India’s move to scrap the special status of the Muslim-majority state.
“Though it was meant to be a bilateral meeting, India’s outreach seemed to garner support for Kashmir,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Jaishankar’s second leg of his South Asia trip was meant to garner support for the Indian government’s move, he added.
The agendas of the meeting included revision of the Peace and Friendship Treaty and various infrastructure projects under Indian funding.
“Both sides agreed to an early conclusion of the review of treaties and agreements related to the trade, transit and rail services,” Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday in a statement.
“They also agreed to continue upgradation and maintenance of infrastructure and logistic facilities at major border crossing points for facilitating trade and transit between the two countries,” said the statement.
But the 2015 blockade still cast a shadow over the two countries’ relations.
In Nepal, many see Jaishankar, who was reportedly picked by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his diplomatic acumen, as an architect of the blockade.
India imposed an economic embargo on Nepal in the summer of 2015 following the promulgation of the country’s new constitution. New Delhi was reportedly miffed at Nepali politicians for not addressing its concerns over the constitution. The economic embargo dealt a huge blow to Nepal, a landlocked country dependent on India for trade and transit.
Ashok Mehta, a retired general of the Indian Army, defended the two-day meeting, arguing that such top-level visits were better than exchanges between bureaucrats and envoys of the two countries.
“Earlier, dialogues were held at the level of intelligence officials or ambassadors. But now, the ministers and prime ministers of the two countries are meeting. It’s a positive sign,” he told the BBC Nepali Service.
Experts say the BJP, which rode to victory in elections held in May, is trying to counter China’s expanding footprint in South Asia, which New Delhi considers its sphere of influence.
© Copyright Andolu Ajansi