The army chiefs of seven BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) countries will meet towards the end of the first joint military exercise of member countries in Pune, which starts next week. Through the exercise, “India is looking forward to initiate a process of sharing counter-terrorism strategies” among the armies of the member nations, said Southern Army Commander Lieutenant General D R Soni.
The field training exercise, named MILEX-18, will be conducted between September 10 and 16 at the Foreign Training Node at Aundh in Pune. Armies of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand will participate in it.
In the recent BIMSETC summit held in Kathmandu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made an appeal to the member states to join the exercise, which is going to be followed by a conclave of army chiefs of the countries in BIMSTEC, said Army officials.
Interacting with the media on Thursday, Southern Army Commander Lt Gen D R Soni said, “The armies of seven BIMSTEC members are participating. The core theme of this military exercise is counter-terrorism in a semi-urban backdrop. Platoon sized contingents of the national armies of the BIMSTEC nations will participate in this week-long training exercise. Five officers and 25 Junior Commissioned Officers, plus Other Ranks of all member countries, will be participating, except Thailand, which will only be sending its group of observers due to certain prior commitments.”
“The exercise focuses on training in operations like cordon and search, search and destroy, and handling and neutralisation of improvised explosive devices. The individual countries have got their core fields of capabilities as all have suffered from terrorism one way or the other. These will be shared,” he added.
Answering a question on the goals India was trying to achieve in defense diplomacy through the exercise, Lt Gen Soni said, “India wants to be the one to initiate this. We are looking to start a dialogue, sharing of procedures, thoughts, processes and certainly strategies to deal with terrorism collectively.”
Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhambre will attend the validation exercise, along with the service chiefs, on September 16.
“In addition to MILEX-18, an initiative of Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, an inaugural Chief’s Conclave is also being organised at the College of Military Engineering on September 15 under the aegis of Southern Command. There will be an attempt to go beyond the country-specific threats and have a regional perspective in dealing with terrorism. The Chief’s Conclave is aimed at sending a message to the world of the intent of Bay of Bengal region, in appreciating the emerging threat of transnational terrorism and the requirement to stand shoulder-to-shoulder,” added Lt Gen Soni.
Former diplomat G Parthasarathy will be the moderator for the Chief’s Conclave.
When asked about some media reports quoting ministers in the Nepal government, who said there was ‘no agreement’ on holding a military exercise, the Army Commander replied, “It is happening. All the contingents will be arriving by September 8 or 9 and the chiefs are coming towards the end of the exercise. We are looking forward to it.”
On Kerala flood relief:
Lt Gen Soni also spoke about the recently-concluded flood relief efforts by the Army in Kerala. “Our guys have done an extraordinary job. Only a sense of commitment can make a soldier keep working for 10 days without a break, most of the time in wet clothes and fighting [in] extreme conditions. We have recently started enhancing the disaster relief and humanitarian aid capabilities of our units. Many of the units have been given satellite phones. These units have started using drones for observations, locating affected people. Because many people need medical attention, all our teams now include a medical corps soldier for immediate assistance.” he said.