Officials, Army defend BIMSTEC drill plans Joint military exercise

- Post Report, Kathmandu

Sep 3, 2018-

The joint military exercise among the armies of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) member countries scheduled for next week in the Indian city of Goa has been mired in controversy, amid new details that plans for the exercise were never discussed during the summit in Kathmandu.

Top Nepali government officials who participated in all three layers of BIMSTEC meetings confirmed to the Post that the issue of joint military exercise did not feature in any of those meetings, and the Foreign Ministry has not been briefed on any new development.

The proposal for joint military exercise was first proposed by the Indian Army, followed by an initial meeting of BIMSTEC army representatives in June. Then, last month, ahead of the summit, India announced that the country was going to host the first-ever military drill among the member states and that it would also convene a meeting of the chiefs of the army staff on the margins of the six-day event.

However, in recent days, leaders from all political parties, including the ruling Nepal Communist Party, and foreign policy and security analysts have expressed concerns over scheduled joint military drill, arguing that the exercise runs the risk of turning the regional grouping into a military and security bloc instead of focusing on issues like connectivity and trade—BIMSTEC’s original, and primary, objectives.

“The fundamental question is who initiated the proposal? Was it the BIMSTEC secretariat, and was this done bilaterally or through the military?” said Binoj Basnyet, a former Nepal Army general. “What will happen to this Alliance Combined Exercise in the next 10 years when there is a trade war going on between the region’s two biggest economic powers?”

Basnyet said that if India is trying to create a new security alliance, and Nepal becomes a part of it, the government has to come clean before the country’s foreign policy is thrown into disarray.

Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali told reporters that the proposed military exercise is not targeted toward any individual country—it is only focused on disaster management and counterterrorism.

During the summit in Kathmandu, some representatives of the member states discussed including security matters as one of the prime objectives of BIMSTEC.

The summit declaration also reiterates strong commitment to combating terrorism and calls upon all countries to come up with a comprehensive approach to prevent financing of terrorism, block recruitment and cross-border movement of terrorists, counter radicalization, and dismantle existing terrorist safe havens.

Although there is no clarity on whether the new BIMSTEC charter will address any security matters, the upcoming military drill is expected to pave the way for the member states to include the security aspect, or at least similar kind of provision, in the charter.

“BIMSTEC member states must focus on immediately working on its charter,” said Nishchal N Pandey, director at the South Asian Studies. “This is the most crucial aspect for any organisation. Instead, it is delving in other issues and these may make it controversial.”

Meanwhile, Nepal Army officials have defended the plans to hold the military exercise. “There is nothing wrong with conducting a military drill with BIMSTEC member states,” said Nepal Army Spokesperson Brigadier General Gokul Bhandari. “We have conducted such military drills with many other countries as well as multilateral organisations.”

According to Bhandari, the military exercise is taking place at a smaller platoon level—around 30 Nepal Army personnel are scheduled to take part—where they will share their experiences and learn from the military teams from other member states.

Published: 03-09-2018 08:15

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