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Nepal has withdrawn from BIMSTEC’s multinational military field training exercise. Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli however said that such a small incident should not have any negative consequences on Nepal’s relationship with India. It was officially stated that Nepal under Oli was committed to equal relationship with both India and China. It is in consonance with Nepal’s more or less consistent policy of equi-distance with the two giant neighbours. There is no doubt however that hard on the hills of the BIMSTEC Summit at Kathmandu, Oli’s decision came as a surprise to India and caused disappointment in New Delhi. But there was no official communication expressing displeasure of the Modi government. Officials in New Delhi stated that India was not reading too much in to the Nepalese cancellation of the military exercise participation. It is like dropping out of a dinner invitation at the last moment. It causes embarrassment but not antagonism.

Kundan Aryal, Media Adviser to Nepal’s Prime Minister K. P. Oli said that the issue of joint military exercises was first put forth by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the first day of the BIMSTEC Summit but the joint statement at its conclusion on August 31, did not mention it. Oli had made it clear on many occasions that the joint military exercises did not mean a Military Pact. India and Nepal have several military exercises. So it has with China as well. The joint military exercise this time drew flak inside and outside the Maoist Party and the Nepalese intelligentsia. There is no reason to see Kathmandu’s decision as a lurch towards Beijing. Thailand had also opted out earlier and there was no issue. New Delhi holds the view that there are internal compulsions within Nepal which compelled it to withdraw from the military exercise. The withdrawal should not sour India’s relations with Nepal which had got worse over the Madhesi issue. Nepal and China did conduct their first Military Exercise in 2017. What matters is how BIMSTEC stands in view of India’s defence Pact with the US.

In Nepal there are mixed feelings. On one hand there is a deep anti-India sentiment based upon which Oli emerged on the national political scene. On the other, some Nepali experts have termed the withdrawal a strategic blunder from Nepal’s side due to communication gap between the line ministries and the Nepal Army. Be that as it may, India needs to remedy this through strong political and diplomatic overtures.


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