“After deciding not to participate in the military exercise held in India, Nepal is going to China for joint exercises.” The Indian media is full of tirades against Nepal these last two days, because that country suddenly decided to withdraw from the joint military exercises on anti-terrorism that were to start on the 10th under the aegis of the “BIMSTEC Multi-Country Economic and Technical Cooperation Initiative” (BIMSTEC). This is the first military exercise under BIMSTEC, which consists of seven countries — India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar. For the Indian Prime Minister, Modi, who visited Nepal recently in August to attend the BIMSTEC Summit and personally promoted the military exercise at the meeting, Nepal’s move is tantamount to “loss of face”. What has left the Indian media cut up is the fact that the Nepalese military said on the 10th that they would go to China to participate in the “Pearl Friendship” military exercise in the second half of this month. “The Times of India” said on the 11th that the news had simply “added salt to the wound”.
The BIMSTEC military exercise was held in the western Indian city of Pune from 10th to 16th. The exercise was first proposed by the Indian military in June this year. The Hindustan Times said that at the 4th BIMSTEC Summit held in Kathmandu from August 30 to 31, Indian Prime Minister Modi officially proposed a military exercise to the Summit members and got it approved. However, according to the “Times of India” report, the Nepalese Foreign Minister maintained that the Summit did not make decisions or reach an agreement in this regard. On Friday, Nepalese Prime Minister Oli summoned the Indian Ambassador to Nepal in Kathmandu reportedly to tell him that Nepal’s decision to withdraw from the military exercise was “due to internal political pressure”. Currently, Nepal is attending the military exercise as an “observer”.
The Indian media said that Nepal’s decision to change course is “disgraceful” and “deceitful” to India, especially the last minute withdrawal two days before commencement of the exercise, after a team from Nepal had arrived in Pune. The Times of India said that India had been “distressed” about Nepal’s practice already, but “to make matters worse, Nepal will go to China to participate in military exercises there”.
Nepalese military spokesman Bhandari told the Times of India on the 10th that the second “Everest Friendship” exercise between China and Nepal will be held in Chengdu from September 17th to 28th. The exercise will be for counter-terrorism training. The first one was held in April last year. India had expressed concern about strengthening security cooperation between China and Nepal.
The Times of India noted that Nepal had not expanded the scale of its military exercise with China. Only about 20 soldiers were participating. India’s own “Sunshine” exercises with Nepal have more than 300 participants. However, it is worth noting that Nepal’s Prime Minister Oli is believed to be “pro-China”.
The Times of India quoted former Indian Foreign Secretary, Sibal as saying that by participating in the BIMSTEC military exercise, Nepal could have balanced the impact of the Chinese military exercise. They did not need to provoke India so much. As of now, it may cost them a certain price”. Another Indian diplomat told the Hindustan Times that Nepal’s move will not cause serious harm to bilateral relations in the short run, but the diplomatic trust deficit will gradually increase. Just last Friday, Nepal also signed a transportation agreement with China, after being allowed to trade through China’s four seaports and three dry ports.
According to Indian media reports, one of the reasons why the Nepalese government did not participate in the military exercise was dissatisfaction at India’s attempt to bring in security and defense cooperation within the BIMSTEC framework. A Nepalese official said that BIMSTEC is a forum dedicated to development and military training is not a priority here.
In addition, as the current Chairman of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which includes Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Nepal has always hoped that the organization would play a greater role at the regional level. The second Summit was held in Pakistan, but India was persistent in its opposition. The Russian satellite network said on the 11th that India’s promotion of the BIMSTEC military exercise is widely regarded as a bid to dilute the influence of SAARC and isolate Pakistan. Other countries also have doubts about India’s practices. In addition to Nepal, Thailand too has participated in the BIMSTEC military exercise as an “observer” only.