Nepal will not join the first-ever military drill among the armies of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) to be hosted by India, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.
The seven-member BIMSTEC, which was set up in 1997, includes India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Thailand has also announced that it, like Nepal, will participate only as an observer.
The drill, being held in Pune in India, is seen by some observers as an “anti-Pakistan” exercise and also aimed at countering China’s growing influence in the region. The latter may be the main reason why Nepal and Thailand, which have close relations with China, are not participating.
According to Xinhua, Nepal’s decision “was made by the government amid growing criticism from multiple quarters over Nepal’s participation” without specifying what the critics had said.
But the Russian news agency Sputnik quoted Nepal’s former Maoist prime minister as saying: “Respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, and non-interference in internal affairs help buttress trust, which is absolutely essential for governing a friendly relationship. Let me tell you frankly [that] small neighbors have some sensitivities that need to be understood and respected.”
Yesterday the Hindustan Times reported that Nepal’s communist prime minister Khadga Prasad Oli called on the Indian ambassador to Kathmandu last Friday to tell him that Nepal was unable to participate in the exercise due to “internal political pressure.”
Thailand, meanwhile, cited “prior commitments” as the reason for not taking an active part in the exercise.
The exercise, which started on Monday Sept 10, will run until Sept 16. It focuses on dealing with terrorism in semi-urban areas.