The Nepal government has decided not to go ahead with a controversial military pact with the US under the framework of the State Partnership Program (SPP). A cabinet meeting on Monday decided to inform the US government that Nepal will not be a part of SPP, said Minister for Information and Communication, Gyanendra Bahadur Karki.
“Today’s Cabinet meeting has made three decisions—not to move ahead on the SPP, inform the US government and make all correspondence only through the Foreign Ministry,” said Rajendra Shrestha, minister for Federal Affairs and General Administration, as per The Kathmandu Post. “The point is that direct correspondence by the army has not done good to the country. All correspondence should have been made through the Foreign Ministry.”
The issue of joining the SPP became a politically charged matter in Nepal. Ruling and opposition party leaders have been calling the Sher Bahadur Deuba government not to sign any agreement on SPP with the US under any circumstances. As SSP is believed to be part of the US military strategy, the government was told to make a public commitment that Nepal would not participate in it.
Deuba is scheduled to visit the US in mid-July, while Nepal’s Chief of Army Staff will be in the US from June 27 to July 1 on a bilateral visit. According to the US, Washington accepted Nepal in the SPP in 2019 after the Nepal Army had written to the US Embassy in 2015 and 2017, requesting to join the SPP.
The SPP agreement became even more controversial after General Charles A. Flynn of the US Army’s Indo-Pacific Command visited Nepal in the second week of June. It was widely believed at the time that Prime Minister Deuba was positive about the SPP, but the Chief of Army Staff, Prabhuram Sharma, was undecided. During his visit to Nepal, Flynn said that an agreement should be reached to move the SPP forward during Sharma’s upcoming visit to the US.
The US maintains that the SPP program is not a security or military alliance, and that it focuses on security cooperation and exchanges, and humanitarian assistance and disaster readiness. The US embassy in Kathmandu last week said that Nepal can stop its participation in the SPP if it wishes so. The US embassy website stated that SPP is an “exchange program between an American state’s National Guard and a partner foreign country” under which “military-to-military training and education in support of common defense security goals” is carried out. The US has SPP partnerships with 93 nations, including Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the Bharatiya subcontinent.
In February, Nepal’s lawmakers ratified a $500 million US aid grant package despite critics saying it undermines the nation’s sovereignty. The aid was to fund a new electricity transmission line and road improvement project, and Washington said it came with “no strings attached”. Opposition to the aid package came mainly from Communist parties, two of which are part of the coalition government, and which have close links to China. These parties said the aid was part of Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which has military components that could bring American soldiers to Nepal.
(With IANS inputs)