Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is scheduled to visit Kathmandu, Nepal on January 4 and 5, 2024. This visit, which marks the Indian government’s first foreign policy move in 2024, aims to address various important issues such as power agreements, air connectivity, digital payments, and the inauguration of development projects funded by India.
This visit has been long-awaited, as the Joint Commission Meeting between Jaishankar and his Nepali counterpart, Foreign Minister N.P. Saud has been pending for several months. The last meeting took place in January 2021. Additionally, this visit will also witness the first bilateral exchange between the External Affairs Minister and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda.
One of the major announcements expected during the visit is a long-term power agreement, focusing on the modalities of the decision made in June 2023 to increase the export of power from Nepal to India to 10,000 MW within the next 10 years. Technical experts have been engaged in discussions regarding the purchase of Nepal’s power exports, investments in power-generation projects, and a breakthrough plan to grant Nepal transmission rights to sell power to Bangladesh.
Nevertheless, numerous unresolved matters necessitate attention. One of these concerns is the report put forth by the Eminent Person’s Group (EPG) during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inaugural visit to Nepal in August 2014. The report, which was finalized in July 2018, proposed measures to modernize the 1950 India-Nepal Friendship treaty and enhance bilateral relations. Regrettably, it has yet to be presented to Modi and is at risk of being disregarded.
Another crucial issue revolves around airspace permission. Prachanda implored Modi to grant authorization for international flights to traverse Indian airspace to access Nepal’s two new airports in Pokhara and Bhairahawa. However, India has not consented to these overflights thus far, raising concerns about a potential “debt trap” as the airports have struggled to generate the necessary revenues.
During his visit, Jaishankar is anticipated to inaugurate several impactful community development programs. One of these programs includes the newly constructed central library at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, which was made possible with Indian assistance. Additionally, he will continue discussions on enhancing connectivity through roads, railways, and inland waterways.
Following the Joint Commission talks on January 4, Jaishankar is scheduled to meet with leaders from various political parties on January 5 before returning to Delhi. As there are no international dignitaries invited to the upcoming inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22, any discussions between Jaishankar and Prachanda regarding the event will be closely observed.
This visit marks a significant milestone in strengthening the bilateral relations between India and Nepal. It reflects a pragmatic approach towards fostering better ties between the two nations. We eagerly await further updates on this visit.
One significant outcome expected from this visit is the establishment of a long-term power agreement, focusing on increasing the export of power from Nepal to India. This agreement not only brings economic benefits to both nations but also enhances their interdependence, further solidifying their bilateral ties.