The Nepal Army has withdrawn from the first BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) military exercise to be held in India following a political row in the country over the participation in the event, a media report said on Saturday.
Prime Minister K P Oli asked the national defence force not to participate in the drill, compelling the Nepal Army's leadership to rollback its earlier decision to take part in the first ever military exercise of the regional grouping initiated by India.
The decision was taken just a day before the Army squad was set to travel to Pune, where the drill will commence on Monday, the Kathmandu Post reported.
The government's decision came after strong criticism from different quarters, including influential leaders from ruling Nepal Communist Party.
The BIMSTEC is a regional grouping comprising Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal.
The armies from all seven members states had agreed to send a 30-member squad for the six-day exercise. The event was dragged into controversy as no diplomatic or political level agreement was made before deciding to take part in the exercise.
"The government directed the NA not to participate in the drill," Kundan Aryal, the press advisor to Oli, was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
A senior Army official said even though they had not received a formal directive, the 30-member squad had been stopped from departing.
Three Army officials who had already travelled to Pune to help plan the conference will also be returning soon, the Army officer said.
Cross-party leaders in Nepal had raised their concerns against the exercise after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his address at fourth BIMSTEC summit in Kathmandu last week, welcomed Nepal's presence in the drill.
"There is no point in our Army Chief participating in the exercise which our government hasn't approved," Minister for Law and Justice Bhanu Bhakta Dahal told the Post.