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JJ tries to pick up Nepal threads

New Delhi, Dec. 21: The chief of the Indian Army has invited the chief of the Royal Nepal Army to visit India, a move that conveys Delhi’s willingness to Kathmandu to pick up the threads of a military relationship despite the diplomatic frostiness after King Gyanendra’s coup of February 1.

The invitation to the RNA chief ' if accepted ' is a diplomatic move through the military channel. Last week, foreign secretary Shyam Saran visited Kathmandu.

India is now watching when the RNA chief will fit a trip to India ' Nepal’s most important neighbour ' into his schedule after successive visits to China and Pakistan.

Kathmandu has also been signalling that Delhi should invite Nepal’s defence secretary.

The invitation to General Pyar Jung Thapa is designed to avoid the embarrassment of his Indian counterpart General Joginder Jaswant Singh from having to accept the title of honorary chief of the RNA. But at the same time, it will reaffirm that Delhi does not want the unique military relationship with Nepal to flounder.

By convention, it is the turn of the Indian Army chief to visit Nepal. The RNA chief had last visited India in November 2004.

However, General JJ had to shelve a trip to Kathmandu shortly after taking over in January this year on the advice of the ministry of external affairs. Singh took over as chief of army staff on January 31. A day later, after the royal coup, he was advised by the political leadership and the foreign ministry to reject Nepal’s invitation.

By tradition, the first foreign visit of the Indian Army chief is to Nepal where he is conferred the rank of honorary chief of the RNA. General JJ is yet to be conferred the title.

Likewise, the chief of the RNA enjoys the status of honorary chief of the Indian Army. The convention is symbolic of the unique military-to-military relations between India and Nepal.

Beyond the diplomacy of invitations and pending requests, however, is India’s very real worry that Nepal is trying to source military equipment and training from other countries, notably China and Pakistan. The Indian Army is also concerned about the threat of the Maoist rebellion in the Himalayan kingdom.

This week, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee admitted that Nepal’s efforts to source military equipment from China and the reported move by Pakistan to train RNA personnel were being viewed with concern in Delhi.

The RNA, which operates with Indian arms and ammunition, has claimed that China had supplied it with several million rounds of bullets and truckloads of military equipment such as grenades and rifles. Last week, General Thapa led a delegation to Pakistan and later claimed that Islamabad had offered to train RNA personnel.

The Indian Army chief’s invitation to General Thapa is still not a signal that India will resume supplies of lethal military equipment to the RNA. India, along with the UK and the US, froze supplies in February asking Narayanhiti palace to reverse its coup.

India’s official stand is that military ties with Nepal and, specifically the issue of resuming arms supplies to the RNA, “is under constant review”.

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