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Nepal snubs India, refuses to join first military drill of Bimstec nations in Pune

India Today logo India Today 09-09-2018 Geeta Mohan

After finding new trade routes with China and ending India's monopoly over Nepal, in yet another setback to India, Nepal has refused to participate in the first ever joint military exercise among the armies of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) nations that will be hosted by India next week.

Prime Minister KP Oli's media advisor Kundan Aryal confirmed the news to India Today that Nepal will be skipping the joint military drill being organised in Pune from September 10-16. "This is the official decision of the government of Nepal," Aryal said.

The proposal for the joint military drill was first forwarded by the Indian Army in June, followed by an initial meeting of Bimstec senior army officials in New Delhi.

While the Nepalese Army will not participate in the military exercise, sources said that Nepal will be represented by a three-member observer team.

Apart from the military drill, the Indian Army chief will hold a conference at the conclusion of the exercise with all the army chiefs of Bimstec nations.

For now, it seems that the Nepalese Army chief will not be attending that as well since the Nepalese Army will have a new chief on Monday, and thus he can't travel to India within days of assuming office. Although he will come later for the ceremony of reciprocal honour that takes place between the Indian and Nepalese Army since the chiefs are honorary generals of each other's armies.

While it was only a proposal made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his speech at the 4th Bimstec Summit in Kathmandu in August, it was not discussed in detail or agreed upon by the forum that includes India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka from South Asia and Myanmar, and Thailand from South East Asia.

The exercise requires platoon-level participation of around 30 soldiers for exercises involving counter-terrorism in semi-urban terrain and cordon and search.

Sources in Nepal said Pm Oli's government has faced criticism from various political parties and that some within his own party were also opposed the drill.

This also comes at a time when Nepal-China relations are on an upward trajectory. And with Bimstec connectivity being seen as a counter to China's BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), non-participation of Nepal in such a 'military drill' certainly seems like a political call, more than an issue of logistics and timing.

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Apart from Nepal, Thailand will also not be participating in the military exercise and will be represented by observers. Sources in the Thailand Embassy cited that there was "no budget prepared in advance for this".

The least that India could have done was put it formally in the Bimstec forum to have a plan with budget outlined for the same in advance.

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