Nepal withdraws from BIMSTEC military drill

- BINOD GHIMIRE, Kathmandu

Sep 9, 2018-

The Nepal Army has withdrawn from the controversial Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) level military exercise following the prime minister’s direction on Friday.

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli informed the national defence force not to participate in the drill, compelling the NA’s leadership to roll back its earlier decision and  pull out of the first ever-military exercise at the regional level initiated by India. The decision was taken just a day before the Army squad was set to travel to Pune, where the drill will commence on Monday.

The government’s decision came on the heels of strong criticism from various quarters, including influential leaders from the ruling Nepal Communist Party.

Armies from all seven member states had agreed to send a 30-member squad for the six-day exercise. The event was dragged into controversy as no agreement was reached at diplomatic or political level before deciding to take part in the exercise.

Even senior ministers said there was no such agreement at the BIMSTEC level. This means the decision to participate in the event was a part of military dealings among the armies.

“The government directed the Nepal Army not to participate in the drill,” Kundan Aryal, press advisor to PM Oli, told the Post. A senior Army official said that even though they had not received a formal directive, the 30-member squad had been stopped from departing. Three Army officials who had already travelled to Pune to help plan the conference will return soon, the Army officer said.

Cross-party leaders had raised their concerns over the exercise after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his address at fourth BIMSTEC summit last week, welcomed Nepal’s presence in the drill. Though the

controversy started only after Modi’s remarks, the initial planning conference of the exercise was held during the third week of June, with the participation of the army officials from seven member states, including Nepal.

Acting chief of the Nepal Army Purna Chandra Thapa, who is due to take charge of the national defence force on Sunday, too was expected to attend a meeting of the army chiefs after the conclusion of the military drill and had sought government’s approval for the participation.

“There is no point in our Army chief participating in the exercise which our government has not approved,” Minister for Law and Justice Bhanu Bhakta Dahal told the Post. Political and security analysts say the entire episode reveals a strategic failure on Nepal’s side.

“This is a clear example of lack of strategic leadership and coordination,” Binoj Basnyat, former major general who writes on security issues, told the Post.

Basnyat said the controversy would have been averted had the Cabinet approved the proposal and the president had endorsed it.

He added that if there is a need for any security collaboration, there should be BIMSTEC-level security co-

operation that includes participation of the army, law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Published: 09-09-2018 07:23

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