Nepal Army chief to visit Pentagon ahead of Deuba’s Washington tripGeneral Prabhu Ram Sharma’s proposed travel date is late June, which comes amid increased US political engagements in Nepal.
Nepal’s Army chief is set to travel to the United States in what marks the increased high-level political and military engagements between Kathmandu and Washington.
Chief of the Army Staff Gen Prabhu Ram Sharma will be flying to the United States just ahead of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s visit, according to sources.
Sharma has already received an invitation from the United States Department of Defense for the visit, the sources added.
As per the schedule, Prime Minister Deuba will be flying to Washington either in early July or mid-July, in the first official visit by a Nepali prime minister to the US in two decades.
Ahead of the prime minister’s visit, the Pentagon will host Gen Sharma and preparations are underway for more visits at different levels, according to the Nepal Army.
Nepal Army spokesperson Brig Gen Narayan Silwal told the Post that preparations for Gen Sharma’s visit to the US as well as some countries where Nepal Army personnel have been deployed as peacekeepers are underway.
“The chief has received an invitation from the Pentagon. Once the Cabinet gives the nod, a formal announcement with dates will be made,” said Silwal.
The proposed dates of the visit of the Army chief are from June 27 to July 1.
Besides meeting with senior US military and defense officials, Gen Sharma will be visiting one defense university and military training center.
During the visit, Gen Sharma will meet Amy Searightis, deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia, within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs in the Pentagon.
Sources said procurement of some military hardware from the US is also high on the agenda of Gen Sharma’s meeting with US military officials.
Sources in the army said Admiral John Aquilino, the commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, is visiting Nepal before Sharma’s visit to the US. Aquilino is the 26th commander of the oldest and largest combatant command of the US. The Indo-Pacific Command includes 380,000 soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, guardians, coast guardsmen and Department of Defense civilians and is responsible for all US military activities in the Indo-Pacific, covering 36 nations, 14 time zones, and more than 50 percent of the world's population, according to the US navy website.
The militaries of Nepal and the US share a longstanding partnership.
The Nepal Army has been receiving different kinds of support from the United States.
The US Army has been providing assistance for disaster risk reduction and imparting training to Nepal Army personnel. It also provides support and assistance to Nepali peacekeepers deployed in various conflict-hit countries.
There have been regular exchanges of visits and sharing of expertise and experiences between the armies of the two countries in the area of training, disaster management, peacekeeping capacity building and security cooperation, logistics management, counter terrorism and so on, according to the country briefing of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Though the visit of the army chief to the US is termed a regular one which was pushed back due to the Covid pandemic, some defense experts said American engagements in Nepal have increased in recent times and Gen Sharma’s visit this time may be more than a routine event.
Lately, especially after the ratification of the Millennium Challenge Corporation compact by the Nepal parliament, Washington seems to be showing a renewed interest in sending high-level officials to Kathmandu.
Just last week, US Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya concluded her three-day Nepal visit, the highest level visit by a US official since 2012. US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu visited Kathmandu in November last year. Before that Vice President of MCC Compact Operation Fatema Z Sumar was in Kathmandu in September.
Nepal and the US are celebrating the 75th anniversary of their diplomatic relations this year.
The Nepal-US ties have been steady over the last seven decades. Washington, however, appeared to have been frustrated only recently when Nepali political leadership vacillated on ratifying the MCC Nepal Compact, a $500 million grant which Nepal signed up to in 2017.
Some observers were quick to take note.
Confusion was further fuelled after some US officials remarked that the MCC was part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, which some believe is Washington’s ploy to counter China, Nepal’s northern neighbour.
In May 2019, US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia David J Ranz during his Nepal visit said that the Indo-Pacific Strategy is not against any country and that the United States is not asking Nepal to be “for” or “against” it.
It is not certain whether Nepal’s participation in the Indo-Pacific Strategy will be discussed during Gen Sharma’s meeting with US defense officials. There, however, is one component called the State Partnership Program under the Indo-Pacific Strategy to which Nepali side has been positive.
“Political engagements from Wasington have increased in Nepal and their interest is also increasing,” said Binoj Basnyat, a retired major general. “We are becoming a playground for major powers.”
Nepal’s decision to ratify the MCC has already worried Beijing, which is wary of Washington’s increasing footprints in Nepal. The recent meetings of US Under Secretary Zeya, who is also the special coordinator for Tibetan issues in the Joe Biden administration, with Tibetan refugees in Kathmandu have not gone down well with Beijing.
Basnyat said a host of issues related to the military and defense cooperation could be discussed during the visit.
“In the past, the US would call a meeting of the Pacific Region once a year, and our chief used to participate and visit the Pentagon,” said Basnyat. “The visit now is taking place at an interesting time amid rapid geopolitical shifts. Major powers are overtly coming around and Nepal has not been able to tame such activities. This is a political failure on Nepal’s part.”