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BIMSTEC embarrassment for India

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Published: 03:35 GMT, Sep 12, 2018 |
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India is facing an embarrassing situation at the first ever military exercise of the regional grouping BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) with Nepal and Thailand backing out from sending full contingents. Yesterday (Tuesday), Nepal also conveyed that their Army Chief would not be able to attend the Chiefs’ conclave scheduled as part of the exercises.

“All participating nations except Nepal have confirmed their Army Chiefs would attend the Chiefs’ conclave scheduled as part of the exercise,” a defence official said on condition of anonymity. “The reason was their new Chief has just taken charge and has a large number of commitments.”

Nepal, which had initially confirmed its participation with a full contingent, pulled out in the last minute and instead sent three observers. The official communication from the Nepal Army was that “it was a political decision.” General Purna Chandra took charge as the Chief of Nepal Army on Sunday.

The exercises were proposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his speech at the BIMSTEC summit in Kathmandu last month that brought together leaders of India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand. However, PM Oli’s office said shortly after that MILEX had not been formally placed on the meeting’s agenda, and subsequently pulled out.

Interestingly, while Nepal has backed off from this exercise, it is scheduled to hold its second military exercise with China next week.

Apart from Nepal, Thailand, which was the last to confirm its participation in the exercise, conveyed that it could only send observers.

The MILEX 18 exercise, scheduled from September 10 to 16 at the Aundh Military Station in Pune, is aimed at helping the BIMSTEC nations practise “planning and conduct of counter terrorist operations”, according to the Army.

Each country was asked to send a contingent of 30 personnel including five officers and 25 soldiers in addition to three observers. However, Nepal and Thailand sent only observers.

“Thailand has conveyed that they had budgeting constraints and so will send only observers,” said an official, who did not wish to be identified.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) did not respond to questions on the issue.

Ambassador Chutintorn Gongsakdi of Thailand indicated that Thai government had not had sufficient time for preparation. “Thailand is absolutely committed to BIMSTEC. That is why we are observing MILEX,”he said. “This [level of participation] is due to fiscal year ending in September and MILEX being an unforeseen event,” he added.

According to defence sources, a formal communication about the exercise was sent to all the countries in the grouping in end May. The initial meeting to plan the modalities of the exercise was held on June 19-20 and the final planning conference was held on August 2-3.

BIMSTEC was set up in 1997 and includes India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

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