BIMSTEC Drill

Why The Nepalese Army Skipped BIMSTEC Military Drill

Nitin A. Gokhale 14 September 2018

The Nepalese Army’s no-show at the inaugural BIMSTEC military exercise and the absence of its Army chief at the chiefs’ conclave in Pune is getting more curious.

One report from Kathmandu now says that the Nepalese Army headquarters did not think it necessary to take the government’s permission about its participation in the multilateral field exercise since there was no financial implication involved.

Normally, when the Nepalese Army contingents travel to India for bilateral exercises, they travel by an Indian Air Force (IAF) transport aircraft. Once in India, their transport, stay and hospitality is the responsibility of the Indian hosts. Thus, there are no expenses that the Nepalese Army has to incur. In the case of BIMSTEC exercise too, the same arrangement was to apply. Therefore, someone in the Nepalese Army headquarters apparently decided that a routine ‘for information only,’ kind of letter to the Ministry of Defence would be sufficient.

However, when the letter went to the ministry, officials sought directions from the Prime Minister’s Office. Apparently, Prime Minister Oil’s office was aghast at the casual approach adopted by the Army and ordered a review. That’s when the Army was told to hold on.

Meanwhile, other political leaders also got wind of the Army’s plans. As consultations began, Prime Minister Oli and his advisers decided to stop the Army’s participation on the grounds that there was no official mention of a military exercise at the BIMSTEC summit. However, sources in Nepal say the decision is as much to do with PM Oli’s perceived antipathy to New Delhi as his desire to rein in the Nepalese Army, which has a standing of its own in the Himalayan nation’s power structure.

The absence of Nepal’s newly appointed Army Chief Purna Chandra Thapa from the BIMSTEC Army chiefs’ conclave on Saturday and Sunday has more to do with following tradition than deliberately snubbing India. Apparently, attending ceremonial events forms a major part of the engagements that a new Nepalese Army chief has in the first couple of weeks after he takes over. He has to conduct many religious rituals and attend age-old programmes to propitiate the gods. Absence from these functions is frowned upon by the troops.

Given this background, the new chief who took over last week did not want to be seen as a spoiler. So he is reported to have personally reached out to his Indian counterpart General Bipin Rawat and explained his predicament. Gen. Rawat, himself a Gorkha officer, understood the Nepalese Army chief’s dilemma and reportedly concurred with his decision. Incidentally, India’s Army chief is an honorary chief of the Nepalese Army and vice-versa.

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