Nepal's parties show rare unity on border dispute with India

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — While Nepal's latest border dispute with India has strained relations between South Asian neighbors with centuries-old historical, cultural and economic ties, it also has brought the tiny Himalayan nation's bickering political parties together in a rare show of unity.

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The opposition Nepali Congress party has voiced support for the government in its row with India over its inauguration of a Himalayan link road built in a disputed region that lies at a strategic three-way junction with Tibet and China.

In response, the government of Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli issued a new political map of the country that showed the disputed territory within its borders, a move that was overwhelmingly supported by Nepal’s opposition and civil society.

”It is just not the political parties but the whole population that is backing the government on the issue,” said Puranjan Acharya, an independent analyst.

The 80-kilometer (50-mile) road, inaugurated by Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh earlier this month, cuts through the Lipu Lekh Himalayan pass, which is considered one of the shortest and most feasible trade routes between India and China.

Nepal fiercely contested the inauguration of the road and viewed the alleged incursions as a stark example of bullying by its much larger neighbor, triggering a fresh dispute over the strategically important territory.

Nepal, which was never under colonial rule, has long claimed the areas of Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipu Lekh in accordance with the 1816 Sugauli treaty with the British Raj, although these areas have remained in control of Indian troops since India fought a war with China in 1962.

The dispute over the territory, however, brought a new wedge in relations between the two South Asian nations, leading to an exchange of strong-worded statements and remarks from both sides.

India called Nepal’s move a unilateral act that is not based on historical facts, and said it was contrary to the bilateral understanding to resolve the outstanding boundary issues through dialogue.

As anger grows on both sides, analysts say the two countries have no choice but to hold talks to try to resolve their differences.

“As an independent country, Nepal has few options, but the best one is to sit down" and discuss the issue with India, said Dhurba Adhikary, an independent analyst.

This is not the first time there have been differences between Nepal and India.

India imposed an economic blockade in 1989 and again stopped the exports of oil, medicines and food to Nepal in 2015, causing severe shortages for months in Nepal, which at the time was recovering from a devastating earthquake. India had supported an ethnic group in Nepal that was demanding more territory. Nepal called India’s involvement an interference in internal affairs.