Oli defends BIMSTEC joint military exercise

- BINOD GHIMIRE, Kathmandu

Sep 5, 2018-

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has defended the joint military exercise among the armies of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) member countries as a “friendly gesture” amid growing criticism of the drill from within the party and the opposition.

Answering questions raised by opposition lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Oli said BIMSTEC neither has any military motive nor Nepal believes on a military pact. Had there been any military motive, Oli said, the issue would have been included in the Kathmandu Declaration, released after the completion of the regional summit on Friday.

Oli added that the Nepal Army has been conducting bilateral and multilateral drills with a number of countries for decades. A dozen lawmakers from the main opposition Nepali Congress, Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal, and Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party had demanded clarification from the prime minister on why the government decided to join the drill without formal notice to the House. “Nepal Army has been conducting such friendly military exercises with India, China, Pakistan, and the United States of America, and there are a number of other multilateral drills conducted regularly,” Oli told the House. “Officials from different countries take military courses in Nepal, so do our officials in other countries.”

Oli, however, refrained from revealing whether the decision on the exercise was taken by the government or was the decision of the armies from the seven member states.

Oli said the 18-point declaration stressed on the strong commitment of the member nations to combat terrorism but insisted that it does not mean that will lead to forge a military pact among the member countries.

The sole objective of BIMSTEC is development through mutual cooperation and connectivity and all the members fully adhere to that, he added.

A platoon level squad of the army, commanded by a major, will participate in a week-long exercise to be held next week in Pune, India.

The proposal for the joint military exercise was first proposed by the Indian Army, followed by an initial meeting of BIMSTEC army representatives in June. The Indian government in August announced that it would be hosting the drill and convene a meeting of the chiefs of the army staff on the concluding day. Answering to the question of another NC lawmaker Dilendra Prasad Badu, Oli said BIMSTEC cannot be an alternative to SAARC. “It’s just a rumour—they can be complementary to each other but cannot replace each other.”

Published: 05-09-2018 07:30

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