NEW DELHI: Nepal's participation in the first joint military exercise among armies of the seven BIMSTEC members in Pune next week is in doubt following a political row over the issue in Kathmandu.
On Friday, Nepal's foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali told a parliamentary committee that though Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had highlighted the exercise during the fourth Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit in Kathmandu early last week, there had been no agreement on the deal because other member states including Nepal had opposed it.
"India was free to float the agenda, but we did not endorse it," he said. The House committee had summoned Gyawali to explain after both the foreign and defence ministries declared that the decision to take part in the exercise had been taken without consulting them.
Code-named Milex 18, the six-day anti-terrorism (Sept 10-16) drill will see the participation of 30 army personnel each from the seven member states -- India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand-and conclude with a conclave of army chiefs from these nations.
According to the Kathmandu Post, although three Nepal Army officials are already in Pune, the participation of the full squad is now in doubt following the controversy. Army officials from all member states participated in the planning conference of the exercise held in the third week of June.
Earlier, briefing the media in Pune, Southern Army Commander Lt Gen D R Soni said, "The armies of seven BIMSTEC members are participating. The core theme of this military exercise is counter-terrorism in a semi-urban backdrop.
Platoon sized contingents of the national armies of the BIMSTEC nations will participate in this week-long training exercise. Five officers and 25 Junior Commissioned Officers, plus Other Ranks of all member countries, will be participating, except Thailand, which will only be sending its group of observers due to certain prior commitments."
According to Gen Soni, "We are looking to start a dialogue, sharing of procedures, thoughts, processes and certainly strategies to deal with terrorism collectively."