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Nepal’s proposed participation in BIMSTEC military drill divides the ruling party

- SANJEEV GIRI, Kathmandu

Sep 6, 2018-

All is not well within the Nepal Communist Party as leaders of the ruling political group appear sharply polarised over the issue of Nepal’s participation in a joint military drill of BIMSTEC member states scheduled to commence in India next week.

A number of NCP leaders say the military exercise of countries on a platform meant for economic cooperation and extending connectivity seems irrational and could impact a landlocked country like Nepal that already faces severe geopolitical vulnerabilities.

Party sources told the Post that former prime minister Jhala Nath Khanal, senior leaders Narayan Kaji Shrestha and Bhim Rawal are among those miffed at the imminent military drill. Khanal and Shrestha are members of the NCP Central Secretariat, the most powerful body that includes nine prominent party leaders. The difference in opinion between leaders was visible in a meeting of the parliamentary International Relations Committee on Wednesday where Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali and Rawal were at the loggerheads.

[Related: Joint army drill plan causes uproar]

Rawal, who has held both the defence and home portfolios in previous administrations, said Nepal’s participation in the exercise will have a long-term implication on the country’s diplomatic practice.

“While the government says this decision was not made during the BIMSTEC Summit, several sources verified that the number of platoons, as well as their departure date, had already been confirmed,” said Rawal, questioning the government’s position.

Rawal’s remarks came a day after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli defended the decision to participate in the military exercise, arguing at the House of Representatives that BIMSTEC doesn’t have a military motive and that Nepal doesn’t believe in a military pact. Party sources say that Rawal’s opposition is an indication that the issue isn’t going to settle easily.

A senior NCP member told the Post that the issue of military drill was given prominence by some leaders to create a rift in the party.

“First of all, it is clear that the military drill is not a result of the recent BIMSTEC summit. Second, one needs to contemplate whether a state like Nepal is capable of taking a neutral position on such issues before pointing a finger,” said the party member, who did not wish to be identified.

Khanal has been unhappy with the NCP leadership after his position within the party was reviewed, placing former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal at the second spot after Oli and Dahal. Rawal is said to be seeking a place in the central secretariat, while Shrestha resigned as the party spokesperson following a dispute with Oli.

The NCP member also said that NCP Co-chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who embarks on a three-day visit to India on Thursday, hasn’t taken a position on the issue.

Foreign Minister Gyawali on Wednesday tried to placate his own party colleagues by explaining why the military drill was announced during the BIMSTEC forum.

“The Indian prime minister might have simply mentioned it during his speech at the summit because India is leading security and terrorism issues in the regional forum,” Gyawali said.

The dispute within the party leaders is likely to continue into the forthcoming meeting of its Standing Committee.

“There will be deliberations over the matter during the meeting,” NCP leader Bishnu Rijal said. The committee is scheduled to meet on September 11 and 12.

Published: 06-09-2018 08:15

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