Indian Army chief General MM Naravane is set to travel to Nepal next month, the first high-level visit between the two countries since a border row hit ties earlier this year.
Nepal’s defence ministry announced on Wednesday that Naravane will visit in November. “The visit was approved by the government of Nepal on February 3, 2020 but was postponed due to [the Covid-19] lockdown in both the countries,” it said in a statement.
In keeping with a long-standing convention between the armies of the two countries, Nepal’s President Vidya Devi Bhandari will “confer the honorary rank of general of the Nepali Army to General Naravane in an investiture ceremony during this visit”, the statement said.
Though the statement didn’t give the dates for the trip, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that the Indian Army chief is expected to be in Nepal during November 3-5.
India and Nepal have traditionally had strong defence and security ties, with regular exchanges and training programmes. Nearly 30,000 Gurkhas serve in seven regiments of the Indian Army.
Naravane’s visit will provide an opportunity for the two sides to push defence and security cooperation after bilateral relations were affected by a border row that erupted in May.
At the time, Nepal objected to the opening of a new road to Lipulekh region on the border with Tibet by India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh. Nepal then issued a new map that showed Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura, all controlled by India, as part of Nepalese territory, exacerbating the row.
Soon after the row began, Naravane said Nepal’s protest against the border road was at the behest of “someone else” – a veiled reference to China. The comments irked the Nepalese leadership, and defence minister Ishwar Pokhrel had said they “hurt the sentiments of the Nepali Gurkha army personnel who lay down their lives to protect India”.
India rejected Nepal’s claims on Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura and said the matter should be addressed through dialogue. However, talks are yet to be scheduled between the two sides.
In August, the two sides held a meeting of their oversight mechanism that oversees India-funded development projects and agreed to speed up work on bilateral projects, including infrastructure schemes and cross-border rail links. This was seen as the first effort by the two countries to set their relations back on an even keel.