Delhi did not protest Kathmandu skipping drill, say Nepali officials

- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu

Sep 12, 2018-

India has “unofficially” expressed its unhappiness over Nepal’s decision to withdraw from the first-ever joint military exercise among the member states of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) that began in Pune, India on Monday.

Although some Indian media reports said Indian officials met with Nepali officials to express their displeasure at Singha Durbar’s last-minute decision, two senior Foreign Ministry officials told the Post there were no formal calls from New Delhi to Kathmandu.

“We have neither received any communication from India’s Ministry of External Affairs as claimed by some members of the Indian media nor have we had any official meeting with Indian officials,” one of the Nepali officials said.

A second Foreign Ministry official confirmed to the Post that “there was no official communication” from the Indian side. “We have gone through the Indian media reports and they are baseless and full of factual inaccuracies,” the official said.

Both ministry officials spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss diplomatic details without prior approval. The Post reached out to Foreign Secretary Shankar Das Bairagi, who confirmed that he has not met or been approached by any Indian officials.

On Monday, however, Indian Ambassador to Nepal Manjeev Singh Puri “unofficially” brought up the issue with Bairagi during an event—but not in the manner some Indian media reports stated, the foreign secretary said.

India’s reservations over Nepal’s decision were also communicated by Puri during his meeting with new Nepal Army chief Gen Purna Chandra Thapa, who took charge on Sunday.

Although the Nepal Army statement about the meeting was silent on the conversation between the two over the BIMSTEC military exercise, an Army official told the Post that Puri did bring up the subject with Gen Thapa. The Army official said Thapa also expressed his surprise at Nepal’s inability to take part in the exercise.

Amid criticism from several quarters, procedural lapses, and lack of coordination between the Army and the Cabinet, Nepal backtracked on its decision to take part in the military drill a day before the exercise was scheduled to begin. However, three Nepal Army officials who had reached Pune already are still participating as observers.

One of the Indian national dailies, Hindustan Times, reported that New Delhi told Kathmandu its decision was inappropriate and its explanation of internal political pressure “not convincing.” Quoting unnamed diplomatic sources in Delhi, the Times of India reported that Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had called the Indian ambassador, Puri, in Kathmandu and conveyed to him Nepal’s inability to participate in the exercise citing “internal political pressure.”

The Post could not independently verify whether Oli himself called the Indian ambassador or blamed internal politics for the decision.

Published: 12-09-2018 07:30

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