BY SACHIN PARASHAR
Nepal’s decision to pull out of the joint Bimstec military drill + in Pune couldn’t have come at a worse time for India with the Nepal army set to participate in a 12-day long military exercise with China later this month.
Nepal Army spokesperson Brig Gen Gokul Bhandaree told TOI on Monday that the second such joint exercise with China, Sagarmatha Friendship-2, was going to take place from September 17 to 28 in Chengdu.
“The main focus of the exercise is going to be on counter-terror operations,” said Bhandaree.
Nepal’s first such joint exercise with China took place in April last year leading to concerns in India over growing security cooperation between Nepal and its northern neighbour. The second Nepal-China joint exercise will come days after the Nepal government directed its military to withdraw from the first ever joint military drill by Bimstec countries.
The Nepal government, according to reports from Kathmandu, is not particularly pleased with attempts by India to boost security and defence cooperation within Bimstec.
India though is still smarting from Nepal’s decision to withdraw at the last moment from the Bimstec exercise – when an advance military team from Kathmandu had already landed in India – and the exercise with China is unlikely to soothe nerves here.
As former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal says, participating in the Bimstec exercise would have balanced the exercise with China. According to Sibal, it is unfortunate that Nepal gets satisfaction in provoking India needlessly.
“By taking such inconsiderate steps they will alienate Indian opinion more and the cost will be felt when Nepal faces a crisis in the future. They have to nurture the India relationship, not create distrust,” says Sibal.
To be sure, Nepal hasn’t scaled up its defence exercise with China from what it was last year. Like in 2017, and as Bhandaree said, not more than 20 soldiers will participate in the Chengdu exercise. India’s own joint exercise with Nepal Surya Kiran involves over 300. It hasn’t helped the Indian government’s cause though that Nepal PM K P Sharma Oli is widely seen in the media as pro-China. Nepal’s decision to pull out from the Pune exercise also came after Modi welcomed the “multi-national military field training exercise” at the Bimstec summit in Kathmandu last month.
That Modi government has also been under pressure from Nepal to unblock the Saarc summit process. Oli had taken up the issue with Modi during his visit to India in April. India though remains reluctant as the next summit is to be held in Pakistan. In an interview to ToI during his visit to India, Oli had said that SAARC had a future because it was the common initiative of the leaders of the region who had nurtured that platform of regional cooperation for the past 3 decades.
“Everyone also knows that the Saarc summit that was supposed to be held in Pakistan in 2016 has been postponed. Nepal, as the current Chair of Saarc, desires to see that we are able to revive the process. However, we are fully aware that this cannot happen unless every Saarc member desires so unanimously,” Oli had said.
A source in Kathmandu also said India must stop looking at Bimstec as an alternative to Saarc. “To focus on terrorism is one thing but to participate in a joint military exercise quite another. The government as well as the opposition was unsure if Bimstec was meant for an exercise like that,” said the official.
(The Times Of India)
Insult to injury: Nepal to now join military drill with China
BY SACHIN PARASHAR