Kathmandu: Nepal PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been performing a balancing act between India and China, but Kathmandu’s proposed first joint military exercise with Beijing early next year has triggered considerable unease in New Delhi.
The decision discomfits India as it seeks to put a rocky patch in relations with Nepal during the tenure of K P Oli behind it and look forward to a new chapter with Prachanda at the helm.
Nepal’s ambassador to India Deep Upadhyay sought to play down the significance of the exercise, named ‘Pratikar’, and said the military engagement would be on a very “small scale” and that there was nothing for India to be worried about. “There’s really not much in it,” Upadhyay said.
“We have done similar exercises with some other countries, too, in the past to be able to deal with the Maoists,” Nepal’s ambassador to India Deep Upadhyay told TOI. “Whichever way you look at it, Nepal has a special relationship with India and that’s not going to change because of any such exercise.”
The exercise is meant to help Nepal with counter-terror operations. India, however, has been conducting such anti-terror joint exercises annually with Nepal for a decade. Nepal’s deciding to go ahead with a similar exercise with China is likely to add another layer of complexity to India’s ties with both Nepal and China, not discounting Prachanda’s efforts to restore Nepal’s ties with India after he took over from Oli.
According to the foreign ministry, India’s defence ties with Nepal comprise military educational exchanges, joint exercises, and supplies of military stores and equipment. That’s not all though. Military ties between the two countries are so inextricably intertwined that over 32,000 Nepalese Gorkhas continue to serve in Indian Army and Nepal is home to over 1.2 lakh ex-servicemen – and their dependants – who draw pension from India.
The news about Nepal’s proposed joint exercise comes only a month after the visit to Nepal by Indian Army chief Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag. His trip was meant to build upon the warmth in ties since Prachanda took over and also to assure Nepal that India remained committed to capacity-building of Nepal’s army.
Reacting to the development on Nepal’s military engagement with Beijing, China’s Global Times warned India on Monday that it was neither realistic nor possible for India to always regard Nepal as its backyard and put pressure on Sino-Nepalese cooperation.
“If the Sino-Nepalese joint military exercise is implemented, this will enhance bilateral relations. Security cooperation can strengthen mutual trust and promote bilateral cooperation. In the future, Nepal and China may establish normalised and institutionalised security framework. Meanwhile, the Sino-Nepalese relationship can set a good example for surrounding countries, thus further enhancing China’s cooperation with countries in South Asia,” it said in an op-ed piece.
While the article argued China’s security ties with Nepal were not aimed at any third country, Indian officials said China’s military links with Nepal do not really help India at a time when the government is struggling to check Chinese presence in the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region in POK as part of its economic corridor with Pakistan. Despite having publicly maintained that it wasn’t acting against India’s interests, Beijing has shown little regard for the government’s concerns over the corridor which passes through Indian territory.