The hypocrisy of Nepal’s claims over Lipulekh Pass claiming it to be Nepali territory based on the 1816 Treaty of Sugauli is all too known. In fact, going by the allegiance of the current government, it is no surprise that Nepal has suddenly remembered that a road which is being built for the last decade with Nepali and Chinese acquiescence is in fact inside Nepal. Considering the 1816 Treaty of Sugauli as the starting point, one would see that there are three major pacts which Nepal signed with it’s neighbours over it’s foreign relations and border settlements –

  1. 1816 Treaty of Sugauli
  2. 1856 Treaty of Thapathali
  3. 1961 Boundary Treaty with People’s Republic of China and the Kingdom of Nepal

Restricting the discussion to the western border, the first and third treaties deal with the border and the second and third treaties discuss over the status of Tibet.

Treaty of Sugauli is signed in the aftermath of the disastrous Gorkha defeat in the hands of British India and it’s allies. The treaty says thus over the western border –
Article 5th
The Rajah of Nipal renounces for himself, his heirs, and successors, all claim to or connexion with the countries lying to the west of the River Kali and engages never to have any concern with those countries or the inhabitants thereof.

The same is ratified in the 1860 Treaty of Nepal signed in the aftermath of 1857 War of Independence for the services Jung Bahadur Rana offered to the British in containing the rebellion.
Article 3rd
The boundary line surveyed by the British Commissioners appointed for the purpose extending eastward from the River Kali or Sardah to the foot of the hills north of Bagowra Tal, and marked by pillars, shall henceforth be the boundary between the British Province of Oudh and the Territories of the Maharajah of Nipal.

After the Chinese invasion and annexation of Tibet, both Nepal and Bhutan shut their borders with Nepal and in due time, Nepal opened up to China. The Treaty signed in 1961 between Nepal and China over the settlement of border issues mentions the western limits of Nepal as
1–The Chinese – Nepalese boundary line starts from the point where the watershed between the Kali River and the Tinkar River meets the watershed between the tributaries of the Mapchu (Karnali) River on the one hand and the Tinkar River on the other hand, thence it runs southeastward along the watershed between the tributaries of the Mapchu (Karnali) River on the one hand and the Tinkar River and the Seti River on the other hand, passing through the Niumachisa (Lipudhura) Snowy Mountain ridge and Tinkarlipu (Kipudhura) Pass to Pehlin (Urai) Pass.

One would note that all the three pacts mention Nepali border as East of Kali River. But, the actual location of Kali River is not mentioned. Nepali claims of Lipulekh Pass and Kalapani area are based on this confusion. While Nepal claims that the origin of Kali River is in Limpiyadhura based on some old documents,

1. i) The Lipulekh Pass is a part of the Nepali territory is supported by many facts. The historic maps of 1827 and 1856 and among others, published by the British Survey of India, depict that the Western boundary of Nepal is extended up to Limpiyadhura, and the river originating from this point is named as ‘River Kalee.’
1. ii) Similarly, the ‘Old Atlas of China’ a map published during Qing Dynasty (1903), depicts, in Chinese characters, Limpiyadhura as the source of the Kali River. The word ‘Nepal’ is scribed in the map for the north-eastern part of the river.

the last treaty signed in 1961 clears the air completely. Though the treaty also mentions that Nepal is west of Kali river, unlike all the other prominent geographical markers mentioned in the document, this document doesn’t mention Lipulekh Pass, clearly confirming India’s stand that the river’s origin point is further east of Kalapani area.

Though Nepal raised this issue on and off, it was never serious on it’s claims. But, this time, it’s different. Going by the geopolitics of the day, it is clear that Nepal demanding India to surrender Lipulekh Pass is not for Nepali sovereignty but for Nepal claiming it’s inability to stop the Chinese from occupying Nepali territory around Lipulekh Pass and seriously compromising Indian defence position in Taklakot-Minsar Sector.

Unsurprisingly, Nepal has forgotten the 1856 Treaty of Thapathali signed after the Nepal Tibet War. It is possible that, going by the fact that Nepal sent an army against the British in support of Nana Saheb and Jung Bahadur Rana sold the army to the British for £20,000, it is possible that this pact was also a part of the favourable relations Jung Bahadur Rana had with the British. The treaty says thus –
1. Pratham Kura (Article One): The Government of Bhot is to give to the Gorkha Government a salami of rupees 10,000 annually.
2. Doshro Kura (Article Two): Gorkha is to render assistance to Tibet, as far as possible, if she is invaded by a foreign power.

Clearly, the treaty says that Tibet is a tributary of Nepal. Interestingly, there is not one treaty between 1856 and today which releases Tibet from this vassalage.

Below are the subsequent treaties from which we can infer some information. All these treaties show that Nepal’s position as a tributary collecting superior of Tibet is not contested.

  1. The 1912 Agreements(The representatives of the Chinese and the Tibetans met together in the presence of the Gorkha witnesses…) between Tibet and China have Nepal as the witness. It is not mentioned in what capacity Nepal is maintained as the witness
  2. The 1913 Treaty between Tibet and Mongolia assert that Tibet is no more a vassal of China(Mongolia and Thibet, having freed themselves from the dynasty of the Manchus and separated from China, have formed their own independent States).
  3. China rejects the 1914 Anglo-Tibetan Treaty and other treaties dealing with the position of Arunachal Pradesh even today.
    Convention between Great Britain, China and Tibet, Simla 1914:
    Article 9. For the purpose of the present Convention the borders of Tibet, and the boundary between Outer and Inner Tibet, shall be as shown in red and blue respectively on the map attached hereto.(The map deals with slicing off Arunachal Pradesh from China)… In February last you accepted the India-Tibet frontier from the Isu Razi Pass to the Bhutan frontier(Note by AH McMohan).
    The whole map is not needed for to display the border position; Tawang’s presence on Indian side is more than enough to establish that what China claims as it’s own is India’s Arunachal Pradesh.

It is interesting to note that even the 1961 Sino-Nepal Border Treaty doesn’t talk about the position of Tibet.
Noting with satisfaction that the friendly relations of long standing between the two countries have undergone further development since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and that the two parties have, in accordance with the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and in a spirit of fairness, reasonableness, mutual understanding, and mutual accommodation, smoothly achieved an over-all settlement of the boundary question between the two countries through friendly consultations,
Firmly believing that the formal delimitation of the entire boundary between the two countries and its consolidation as a boundary of peace and friendship not only constitute a milestone in the further development of the friendly relations between China and Nepal, but also are a contribution toward strengthening peace in Asia and the world,

All this begs one to question why Nepal is not interested in asserting it’s claims over Tibet which stand on more solid ground than that of Lipulekh Pass. In fact, one may argue that by declaring independence from China, Tibet also freed itself of Nepali yoke/Tibet is a tributary to one country. The Indian Do-amli tributary scheme where a state can be a tributary to more than one state and in some cases, even to three is not uncommon.

(Imperial Gazetteer of India)

Thus we would see that while Nepal has got no claim over Lipulekh Pass, it has every claim over Tibet. In case Nepal wants to control Lipulekh Pass, it is welcome to take over Taklakot any day and impose it’s writ if China refuses to honour Tibet’s tributary commitments to Nepal. And it is interesting to watch how Nepal will assert it’s hold over Tibet if at all it is interested. That besides, it is hilarious to note that Nepal holds more importance to the pacts which it signed as a loser and not as a victor.

References:

All the treaties are sourced from the below locations:

https://web.archive.org/web/20060528083207/http://www.nepalicongress.org.np/contents/nepal/treaties/2.php

https://tibet.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/political-treaties-of-tibet…pdf

https://www.tibetjustice.org/materials/treaties/treaties16.html

https://fall.law.fsu.edu/collection/LimitsinSeas/IBS050.pdf

Articles:

Nepal in 1857 Indian War of Independence – What is the Truth? https://cbkwgl.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/nepal-in-1857-indian-war-of-independence-what-is-the-truth/

Authenticity of Lipulekh border pass http://nepalforeignaffairs.com/authenticity-of-lipulekh-border-pass/

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