India suffered a major diplomatic setback on Friday when Nepal announced to withdraw from the first ever anti-terror joint military drill among the armies of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) states to be held in India next week.
Nepal’s decision came a day after China agreed to provide sea and land ports to Nepal and end India’s monopoly over trade. On Friday, Beijing extended its support by providing four seaports and three land ports to Kathmandu.
According to a report from Kathmandu, Kundan Aryal, Press Adviser to Prime Minister told Chinese news agency Xinhua on Saturday that Nepal will not be a part of the joint military drill to be organized in Maharashtra’s Pune from September 10-16.
Without giving the reason of abrupt decision, he said, “Nepal will not participate in the BIMSTEC joint military drill. This is the official decision of the government.”
The decision was made by the Nepali government amid growing criticism from multiple quarters over the country’s participation in the first ever military drill among the armies of BIMSTEC members, officials confirmed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in the BIMSTEC summit on Kathmandu and held bilateral meeting with leaders of the member states including his Nepalese counterpart K P Oli.
Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali said the issue of holding joint military exercise has not been incorporated in any mechanism of the BIMSTEC summit hosted by Nepal on August 30 and 31 in Kathmandu.
The regional grouping founded in 1997, have India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan as member states. These countries are dependent on the Bay of Bengal and account for 22 percent of the global population with combined GDP of USD 2.8 trillion.
According to sources in foreign ministry in Kathmandu, following China’s Friday move, Nepal will be able to access Shenzen, Lianyungang, Zhanjiang and Tianjin, the latter being the nearest seaport at a distance of around 3,300 kms from the Nepalese border. Nepal has been allowed to use Lanzhou, Lhasa and Xigatse land ports as well.
The Nepal-China deal has paved the way for Nepal to diversify its access to seaports and alternative routes for third-country trade.
The theme of BIMSTEC summit held on August 30-31 in Kathmandu was “Towards a Peaceful, Prosperous and Sustainable Bay of Bengal Region”.
Observers believe that with South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) virtually rendered ineffective as a bloc, largely due to alleged non-cooperation on the part of Pakistan on issues of connectivity and counter-terrorism, India has been giving to the BIMSTEC in recent times.
BIMSTEC has 14 priority sectors and the Kathmandu summit has integrated two more priority sectors including Blue and Mountain Economy. A free Trade Agreement is under negotiation along with customs cooperation agreement and a motor vehicles agreement.