Days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit here, Nepal today hailed the new Indian government's "sincere initiatives" to bring fresh momentum in ties with its neighbours and said it will result in economic growth and prosperity to all the SAARC nations.
Outlining the broad contours of areas where India and Nepal can step up engagement, Nepal's Foreign Minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey said his government and people have "high expectations" from the Modi-led government which has taken "very good" initiatives to reinvigorate bilateral ties.
"The initiatives by the Indian government have encouraged the members of the SAARC. So, in the days to come not only the relationship between Nepal and India will improve but it will certainly lead the region to the prosperity," Pandey told PTI in an interview.
The remarks by Pandey came a day after he co-chaired with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj a "successful" meeting of the Joint Commission which decided to expand ties to new areas and agreed to "review" and adjust" the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 which has been the bedrock of ties between the two countries.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Nepal from August 3 -- the first visit by an Indian premier in over 17 years. The late Prime Minister IK Gujral had visited Nepal in 1997. Asked about concerns of certain quarters in India about growing Chinese influence in Nepal, Pandey said it was not influenced by any country and termed both the neighbours as "good friends".
"We are neither influenced by China nor by India...Both of them are our good friends and our relations with them was based on principle of equality. So there is no question of their influence," he said.
Expressing happiness over outcome of the Joint Commission meeting that took place after a gap of 23 years, Pandey identified defence, security, trade and production of hydropower as areas for deeper engagement between the two countries. The Nepalese Foreign Minister indicated that there may be announcements soon on some of the major projects in Nepal involving India to harness its hydro-power potential.
There is vast potential for cooperation between India and Nepal in the field of water resources. Nepal has 83,000 MWs hydropower generation capacity.
The Nepalese Foreign Minister said his government was looking forward to Prime Minister Modi's visit and noted that key to improving ties was to strengthen the bond of friendship "without any prejudice and doubt" in mind. "This is very good initiative. All Nepalese people will be happy. We are looking for a prosperous Nepal and India," Pandey said.
Specifically asked about future defence cooperation, he declined to comment but said in security matters, both sides have similar concerns. He said cooperation in trade and investment will be expanded and said effective measures will be taken to address Nepal's concern over trade deficit with India.
At present the annual bilateral trade is approximately USD 4.7 billion and India accounts for 47% of foreign direct investment in Nepal. He said export of handicrafts and herbal products from Nepal to India will be increased to bridge the trade deficit.
In the Joint Commission meeting, both sides agreed to implement a Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (BIPPA). "It is not that the relationship is restricted between the two governments. Its is more of a people-to-people engagement. Since the time immemorial, we have deeper engagement and we want to promote it in days to come," Pandey said.
Talking about Nepal's democratic transition, Pandey said the Constitution will most likely be promulgated by January next year as all concerned are working sincerely to draft it. "Though constitutionally we can work for four years but politically we have committed to frame and promulgate the Constitution within one year. So by January, we should be able to promulgate it. Our struggle will be institutionalised then. There will be political stability in Nepal," he said.
Last year, the Nepali Congress (NC), which emerged as the largest party in the general elections, had promised to draft the new constitution within a year of forming the government in order to institutionalise the achievements of the peoples' movement of 2006. The civil conflict resulted in the deaths of 13,000 people, with an additional 1,300 people missing, as per human rights groups.