India attaches highest priority to Nepal ties: Pranab

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Kathmandu, Nov 3: Indian President Pranab Mukherjee who is on a three-day state visit to Nepal, the first presidential visit from India in 18 years, said India has an abiding interest in peace, stability and development of Nepal and is committed to strengthening its partnership with the Himalayan neighbour.

In an exclusive interview to The Kathmandu Post published on Thursday, Mukherjee said the two close neighbours share cultural traditions, geography and civilisational linkages that defined their unique bilateral ties.

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Mukherjee, who said his visit was aimed to "advance our close and multi-faceted partnership with Nepal further", skirted any comment on the unease that had crept in the bilateral ties last year over adoption of the new Nepalese constitution.

Mukherjee, who arrived in Kathmandu on Wednesday on the invitation of his Nepalese counterpart Bidhya Devi Bhandari, to a query on the current Nepal-India ties, said: "As it happens, in any relationship of this depth and intensity, there are times when we may have differing perceptions on certain aspects. But we do manage any such differences with sensitivity, goodwill and utmost understanding of each other's vital interests.

"In my view, the current state of India-Nepal relations is excellent and both the governments are determined to work hard to meet the ever growing aspirations of our people for higher standards of living."

Asked about India's position on Nepal's new constitution, Mukherjee said: "As a close neighbour, we are interested in peace, stability and progress of Nepal."

He cited India's example, saying: "We have learnt from our own experience that sustainable socio-economic development can only be achieved in an environment of peace, stability and a participatory democracy, where every section of society is an equal stakeholder in the political processes and its outcomes. These lessons could be beneficial to Nepal as it embarks on its own path to democracy."

To another question on criticism that India went "too far in expressing its displeasure" over the new constitution, and on the "undeclared border blockade", Mukherjee said: "Given our shared border, developments within Nepal can impact the flow of goods across it. But let us not forget that ours is a unique partnership, which is driven by extensive contacts between our two peoples. India has an abiding interest in peace, stability and development of Nepal. As close friends, we, therefore, welcome all efforts that lead to enduring peace and stability in Nepal. Our support and good wishes will always be there as Nepal moves forward towards a federal democratic republic."

The Indian President said the central tenet of India's 'neighbourhood first' policy is close contacts and shared prosperity. He stressed that India's engagement with Nepal "will always be guided by the long-term interests of both nations. Going forward, I firmly believe that India and Nepal need to do more to work together for our common goal of development, peace, economic prosperity and well-being of our peoples".

Mukherjee also outlined the bilateral projects being worked on, including the signing of a power trade agreement. He said India has begun exporting electricity to Nepal through a new transmission line and that bilateral trade has maintained a stable trajectory.

Both sides are in the process of implementing an oil pipeline project between India and Nepal, which will be the first cross-border pipeline to be built in South Asia, he said.

India and Nepal have also signed development agreements for two hydropower projects.

To a question on the imbalance in trade, which is heavily tilted in India's favour, Mukherjee said both sides need to adopt policies that promote mutual investments, create jobs and contribute to national growth and both "can certainly do much more to facilitate business linkages between the two countries".

Mukherjee also dispelled the notion that India views Nepal primarily through the prism of its security concerns, saying that "While India naturally has its interests, what guides us equally is the belief that these are in consonance with those of Nepal. It is a multi-dimensional perspective."

He said "India is committed to moving ahead with Nepal, as per its priorities, on development and economic and connectivity projects, which will benefit the growth of trade, investments and movement of people."

Mukherjee also avoided a direct answer to a question on a proposed trilateral cooperation between India, China and Nepal, saying India's age-old time-tested partnership with Nepal has its "own natural logic" and the open border between them "is its most unique characteristic". "We remain open to any ideas, which will be mutually advantageous and enable economic development and well-being of the people of Nepal," he added.

On Saarc and the evolving sub-regional groupings, Mukherjee said that while India continues to attach importance to cooperation within the framework of Saarc, "no cooperation can take place in an environment of terror" - in reference to the cancelled Saarc summit in Islamabad over terrorism.

He said Saarc needs to move forward under the framework of any regional or sub-regional organisation that is most suitable. "We do not want to get bogged down by the processes or formats."

Mukherjee said: "India attaches the highest priority to its relations with Nepal. The two countries have vital stakes in each other's progress and well-being. India is committed to strengthening its partnership with Nepal and to extend all possible support for the all-round development of our excellent bilateral relations. As two sovereign nations, we wish to take forward our relationship on the basis of mutual trust and benefit. Also, India will remain a welcoming land for the people of Nepal."

IANS

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