India, Nepal to discuss peace process, new friendship treaty


New Delhi : Amid the drifting peace process in Nepal, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal Tuesday began a five-day visit to India – his first to the country since he assumed office nearly three months ago.

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Nepal’s visit is primarily a goodwill trip that is aimed at keeping the traditionally strong relationship with India — tested after the Maoist victory in polls last year — on an even keel.

A host of bilateral issues, including the proposed revision of the friendship and trade treaties and the finalisation of a revised extradition treaty, will figure prominently in the discussions between the two sides.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will hold talks with his Nepalese counterpart Wednesday evening. The talks will focus on sustaining the floundering peace process in Nepal.

Some economic and energy pacts may be signed after the talks, official sources said.

Nepal will also meet President Pratibha Patil, the ruling United Progressive Alliance chief Sonia Gandhi, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

Nepal’s itinerary includes an interactive meeting with captains of business and industry Wednesday and a speech on the state of India-Nepal relations the next day.

India is expected to convey its concerns over the drifting peace process in the Himalayan state after Maoist leader Prachanda resigned as the prime minister nearly three months ago, plunging the country into prolonged political instability.

New Delhi supports broadest possible political consensus in Nepal for the framing of a new constitution, which has been hit by political feuds between rival parties and factions in the political establishment.

Issues relating to trade and investment, water resources, border management, hydroelectric projects and developmental cooperation between the two countries will also figure in the discussions.

The Indian side is expected to stress the need for a new extradition treaty that could be useful in arresting criminals who cross the border and in curbing other cross-border criminal activities.

The visit will provide “a useful opportunity to both sides to discuss issues of mutual interest and ways to further strengthen and expand the close bilateral ties that exist between India and Nepal”, India’s external affairs ministry said in a statement to mark Nepal’s visit.

Nepal took over office May 25 after his predecessor, Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, resigned following a controversy over the dismissal of the Nepal Army chief.

The new prime minister’s visit was preceded by that of Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala last week.