Nepal, Thailand refrain from participating in India-led BIMSTEC military drill

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Nepal and Thailand are taking part as ‘observers’ in the “Milex-2018” anti-terror military drill which began in Pune, India on Monday. Nepal had pulled back after protests had been lodged from political parties, including ruling Communist Party of Nepal. Thailand stated “prior commitments” as not being able to attend.

The drill was earlier proposed by India to initiate joint anti-terror mechanism of the seven-member BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) that includes India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Many consider it to be an effort from India to make SAARC irrelevant so that Pakistan can be isolated.

Earlier, the Nepali Army had said that it would participate in the drill. However, its Prime Minister, KP Oli stated three days before the commencement that his participation was being canceled. The pull-out was later clarified by the Nepali government as having been proposed by Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi.

“India was free to float the agenda, but we did not endorse it,” Nepal’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali said last week.

Analysts have observed that geostrategic imperatives, security dialogues, or counterterrorism cooperation initiatives are no substitute for BIMSTEC’s primary mandate to increase regional connectivity.

“(There are) many reasons behind Nepal’s decision to pull out of the BIMSTEC military exercise, most of which (are) without merit. But this should also serve as a lesson for India about the limits of security cooperation, bound to weaken the organization,” Constantino Xavier, Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at Brookings India in New Delhi wrote.

Former Nepali Prime Minister Push Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) said that Nepal wants to “revive” SAARC and in undertones, stated that BIMSTEC cannot replace SAARC for regional prosperity.

“As the current Chair of another important regional process, namely SAARC, Nepal’s desire is to revive it and see an environment conducive for the early convening of the stalled summit. We believe that SAARC and BIMSTEC do not substitute but complement each other,” Prachanda said on Friday while delivering a keynote address at the Indian Council of World Affairs in Sapru House in New Delhi.

Prachanda also sent a clear message to New Delhi when he said, “Respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, and non-interference in internal affairs help buttress trust which is absolutely essential to governing a friendly relationship. Let me tell you frankly: small neighbors have some sensitivities that need to be understood and respected.”

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