Joint army drill plan causes uproar

  • Two ministries say Army didn’t consult on BIMSTEC drill
- BINOD GHIMIRE, Kathmandu

Sep 6, 2018-

Nepal’s decision to participate in the joint military exercise between the armies of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation member states was a result of military engagement between Nepal Army and the Indian Army, without formal dealings at the diplomatic or political level.

Officials from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) told the Post on Wednesday that the decision to participate in the drill was taken solely by the national defence force. Neither MoD nor MoFA were consulted by the Army—or were made privy to the proposal from the Indian Army.

Nepal’s participation in the first BIMSTEC-level military exercise to be held in India next week has been dragged into a controversy as leaders from both the ruling and the opposition parties fiercely criticise the decision. The six-day drill is expected to include about 30 army personnel from each of the seven member states.

“The ministry hasn’t received any proposal to this effect. I believe this is a part of military engagement decided solely by the Army,” Rishi Rajbhandari, spokesperson for the MoD, told the Post. However, there has been the involvement of MoD or MoFA before making decisions on bilateral or multilateral exercises.

Last year, an agreement was forged between then defence minister Bal Krishna Khand and Defence Minister and Chinese State Councillor Chang Wanquan before the first-ever joint military exercise between Nepal and China.

A joint-secretary at MoFA, who asked for anonymity because he didn’t want to be seen as criticising the Army, said the ministry, too, was unaware of the decision to hold the drill. It’s customary that all correspondence between the state agencies of the two nations follows the MoFA’s channel.

Though the controversy over the military exercise only surfaced in recent weeks, armies from the member states have been preparing for the drill for several months.

The official Twitter handle of Indian Army shows the initial planning conference of the exercise was held in the third week of June, with the participation of army officials from the seven countries including Nepal. “Initial planning conference for BIMSTEC Military Exercise (MILEX)-18 was conducted at Southern Command. It is aimed to create synergy in the field of counter-terrorism operations among member states,” the tweet, which included photos of military officers from member countries, said.

The revelation comes as cross-party leaders continue to raise their objections to the exercise. Many politicians, including those from the ruling party, found out about the military drill after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the event, as well as the meeting of the chiefs of the armies from the BIMSTEC nations, during his speech last week.

The prime minister’s office, however, says that the drill isn’t a part of the BIMSTEC agenda, and that Nepal does not believe in a military pact. In the meeting of a parliamentary committee on Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Shankar Das Bairagi said that a statement by the head of government from any country cannot be the common opinion of all the member nations. Bairagi was referring to the statement by Modi.

Nepal Army officials say the exercise is just an addition to the number of bilateral and multilateral military drills. “This is just a part of the military diplomacy the Army has long been prioritising,” Bijay Thapa, assistant spokesperson of the Nepal Army, told the Post. However, the official declined to go into details about why the Army didn’t notify the MoD and MoFA about the drill early on.

Meanwhile, Acting Chief of the Army Staff General Purna Chandra Thapa will leave for India on September 14,

five days after formally taking charge of the national defence force, to participate in the closing session of the exercise.

Published: 06-09-2018 07:28

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