Nepal withdrew from first ever BIMSTEC’s military drill in India
29th Sep, 2018
- Nepal Army backed out ofBIMSTEC military exercise (MILEX 2018) citing internal political pressure over the participation in the event, as the reason.
- All members of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) sent its troops barring Nepal and Thailand, which sent only observers.
- Following this, Nepal has also declined Indian army’s invite to attend Conclave of Army Chiefs.
- India has conveyed its disappointment over the developments.
- Initiated by India during 4th BIMSTEC summit at Kathmandu in August 2018, MILEX 2018 was first of its kind by the regional grouping.
- Adding substance to the group, it wasfocused on boosting inter-operability among the forces and exchanging best practices to contain terror-related activities.
- Political pressure in Nepal: Opposition and many influential members of the ruling party in Nepal argued that no political or military agreement was made before deciding to participate in the exercise and that it was, thus, only part of military dealings among the armies with no formal agreements.
- BIMSTEC: Founded in 1997, it is the bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia. It comprises of Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal.The grouping accounts for 22 per cent of the global population, and has a combined gross domestic product of USD 2.8 trillion.
- Military exercises with BIMSTEC: As a purely developmental forum, BIMSTEC has not until recently prioritized military drills. However, the long-term goal of the initiative is to explore possibility of creating viable regional security architecture to deal with the challenge of terrorism and transnational crimes. India is the torch bearer country within BIMSTEC on issues relating to counter terrorism and narcotics control.
- India-BIMSTEC: India, along with other members of BIMSTEC, has given little political attention to the grouping in almost two decade of its existence (Only four summits, including the recent one, in 20 years). However, the situation is changing after India’s revived interest in BIMSTEC which is free of India-Pakistan bickering unlike SAARC.
- India- Nepal relations:India and Nepal enjoy a distinctive relationship. At the political level, their closeness can be gauged by the open border they share. However, the relations have soured a little over the years. Nepal has consistently criticised India’s interference in its domestic politics and India’s overall big brother attitude.
- China factor: There is growing economic and security cooperation between Nepal and China. Nepal’s current Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is largely known to be ‘pro-China.’ In recent developments, Kathmandu has sought access to Chinese ports to reduce dependence on India since a prolonged blockade of its border crossings with India in 2015 and 2016 left the country short of fuel and medicine for several months.Nepal finalised the Transit and Transportation Agreement with China, which will end India’s monopoly on the country’s transit and allow Kathmandu vital access to Beijing's sea and land ports.Nepal and China conducted their first military exercise in April 2017, and the second edition took place in September 2018.
Why the recent development is worrisome?
- Nepal’s decision shows that it is not completely on board with Indian efforts to promote defense and security cooperation with BIMSTEC nations.
- The situation is worrisome, especially in context of India’s renewed effort to revive BIMSTEC as a vibrant regional collaboration against SAARC which has Pakistan’s participation.
- Thailand too has sent observers and not a complete military contingent to the BIMSTEC exercises. However, India-Thailand military relations are not of the same nature as those of India and Nepal.
- Distinctive features of India- Nepal military relationship
a. Nepalese citizens serve in the Indian Army, mainly in the Gorkha Regiment, where they can rise to 3-star level. Currently, over 30,000 Nepalese Gorkhas are serving in Indian army’s seven Gorkha Rifle and other paramilitary forces.
b. The chief of the Indian Army is also the honorary chief of the Nepalese army and vice versa.
c. Two armies regularly conduct bilateral military exercise, known as Surya Kiran, every 6 months alternatively in India and Nepal. Its 13th edition was held in last June.
Why it is just another blip in the relations?
- Nepal maintains that it is committed to “equal relationship” with both India and China as it followsa policy of keeping equal distance from its neighbours, without ever being part of a regional bloc militarily.
- Experts believe recent development should not be read too much and it does not negatively affect relations. BIMSTEC worked on a consensus basis, and Nepal had every right to refuse.
- India-Nepal relations has matured over the years, they have faced many bilateral disagreements, but have overcome all with political dialogues.
About BIMSTEC and implications of Nepal’s refusal to join MILEX 2018:
India has lost the plot in its immediate vicinity. Examine in context of recent problems in India-Nepal relations.