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Nepal opens high-level dialogue with defence minister’s visit to India

Defence minister Hari Prasad Upreti’s  visit will mark the first high-level interaction between India and Nepal under PM Prachanda’s government

KATHMANDU: In a bid to further deepen bilateral defense cooperation between the two countries, Nepal’s Defence Minister Hari Prasad Upreti will be paying an official visit to India next week, officials said here on Tuesday.

Upreti is visiting New Delhi from February 13 to 17 at the official invitation of his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh. This is the maiden foreign visit of the defence minister after he assumed the office on January 17. Upreti’s visit will mark the first high-level exchange between Nepal and India after the Prachanda government took office following elections.

A cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda approved the defence minister’s visit to the southern neighbour, according to Rekha Sharma, the government spokesperson who is also the Minister for Information and Communications.

“This visit is expected to strengthen our bilateral defence cooperation between the two countries,” the government spokesperson said here.

During the visit, the two sides will discuss various aspects of bilateral defence cooperation including logistical support to the Nepali Army, according to an official privy to the development. Last year, the Nepali Army requested the Indian Army for logistical support including two military helicopters.

Upreti, a leader of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (Unified Marxist Leninist), is a member of the House of Representatives from Sarlahi district.

The visit of Nepal’s defence minister to India is expected to cement defence ties as the two countries maintain wide-ranging cooperation in the defence sector.

India has remained Nepal’s major defence partner for a long time. Military exercises have been an integral part of Nepal-India defence cooperation over the years. The two have wide-ranging cooperation in the defence sector.

India has been assisting the Nepal Army in its modernisation by supplying equipment and providing training.

Assistance during disasters, joint military exercises, adventure activities and bilateral visits are other aspects of India’s defence cooperation with Nepal, according to India’s External Affairs Ministry.

As part of defence cooperation, Nepal and India hold battalion-level joint military exercises alternately in each other’s country. In September 2021, the joint training was held in Pithoragarh in the Indian State of Uttarakhand while this year’s military exercise took place in Saljhandi of Nepal.

A number of defence personnel from Nepal Army attend training courses in various Indian Army training institutions.

The two countries have been awarding each other’s Army Chief with the honorary rank of General in recognition of the mutual harmonious relationship between the two armies since 1950. Giving continuity to that decades-long tradition, Nepal’s Army Chief Prabhuram Sharma visited India in November 2021 while his Indian counterpart Manoj Pande paid a reciprocal visit in September last year.

The Gorkha connection is also one of the key aspects of Nepal-India bilateral defence cooperation.

The Gorkha regiments of the Indian Army are raised partly by recruitment from hill districts of Nepal. Currently, about 32,000 Gorkha Soldiers from Nepal are serving in the Indian Army.

In addition to Military Pension Branch in Kathmandu, there are two Pension Paying Offices at Pokhara and Dharan, and 22 District Soldier Boards in Nepal, all functioning under the Defence Wing of the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu, which arrange the disbursement of pensions and organise welfare programmes for re-training, rehabilitating and assisting ex-Gorkha soldiers and their families.

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(Santosh Ghimire is India Narrative’s Nepal correspondent based in Kathmandu.)