Indo-Bhutan relations

Published on Dec 30 2009 // Opinion
By Afshain Afzal

Bhutan, a Himalayan kingdom of 635,000 people, geographically located between China and India, has one of the highest per capita incomes in South Asia at over $2,000. Bhutan is a very peace loving and friendly country and its people are happy and prosperous. On November 6, 2008, formal coronation of 29-year-old Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck took place in Thimphu. King Wangchuck, like his father, is a ray of hope for the Bhutanese people and is contributing a lot for the uplift and development of his country. Presently, he is on his six-day state visit to India.

India had tense relations with Bhutan due to allegations of direct interference in Thimphu’s internals affairs and New Delhi’s support to insurgent groups in northeast. It is, however, good to see that India is trying to mend its fences with South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries. In the latest positive development, talks between King Wangchuck and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh resulted in signing of 12 agreements including four on hydropower generation, civil aviation, health and Information Technology (IT) fields. India will prepare the initial technical reports for four new hydro-electricity projects with capacity of over 3500 MW in the Himalayan kingdom. Bhutan, with the domestic consumption of only 400 MW has currently an installed capacity of 1500 MW of hydropower. The entire surplus power is presently exported to India.If we recall, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had concluded an agreement with Bhutan in 2008 that it will help Bhutan build additional installed capacity of 10,000 megawatt in hydropower by 2020. It is pertinent to mention here that India also assisting Bhutan to build three major hydro-electric projects at Chukha, Kurichu and Tala. Besides, India is also helping in the construction of Punatsangchhu-1 project.

The latest four agreements are for preparing detailed project reports for the hydropower projects of Amochu reservoir (620 MW), Kuri Gongri (1800 MW), Chamkarchhu (670 MW) and Kholongchhu (486 MW). Besides, a 4,000-MW Sankosh project is also under negotiation. In Information Technology (IT) sector, India and Bhutan have inked a major project worth Rs.205 crore. Under this project, computer training will be given to over 7,000 government officials, 5,000 teachers and 1,600 enterprises and 200,000 rural children. In the field of education, India would set up a 50-seat undergraduate medical college on the lines of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Other agreements included curbing illicit drug trafficking.

During discussions, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh strongly convinced King Wangchuck that India wants democratic experiment in Bhutan to succeed. It is pertinent to mention here that the people of Bhutan are very loyal to the King and are happy and contended but India and other countries including US and Britain are attempting to abolish monarchy from Bhutan. Some analysts feel that on the instigation of western powers and own vested interests; India is playing a double game to bring popular revolt against King Wangchuck somewhere in the next decade. This cannot be achieved unless the minds of Bhutanese are brainwashed with the help of IT. Indian has hegemonic ambitions in the region and Bhutan is an easy prey. India’s main objective seems to create greater India by placing Bhutan under loose confederation under Indian union. One wonders that the agreement in hydropower generation is New Delhi’s tool to enter Bhutan and win the hearts of masses. India believes that since Bhutan is surrounded by India on three sides and is dependent on India for access to the sea so it should be part of India. Although Bhutan shares borders with China but India claims that a pro-China policy is not viable for Bhutan.

During the ongoing discussions between King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it also came to light that India in interested in security and defence cooperation with Bhutan. No doubt, it would be a greatest folly for Bhutan to fall in this trap.

We have an example of Sri Lanka before us when Indian Armed Forces physically occupied Sri Lanka in 1986 in the name of helping Colombo to get rid of insurgents. One wonders, if India Armed Forces are so smart why they are unable to control law and order situation in more than 28 of its insurgency hit states. India is also controlling Bhutan External Relations through the 1949 treaty between the two countries. Article 2 of the treaty requires Bhutan to be guided by the advice of India in the conduct of its external relations while Article 6 bars Bhutan from import of arms, ammunition, machines, warlike material or stores without assistance and approval of India. Although there were a lot of reviews discussions but still Bhutan cannot frame its independent policies. India must realize that Bhutan is a sovereign country and by the changing the language of the 1949 treaty it won’t suffice. It needs to be the decision from Bhutanese King and its people and not India that whether to purchase lethal or no-lethal weapons. It is irony that Bhutan can only purchase non-lethal military stores and equipment whereas for others there is requirement of approval from New Delhi.

The Indian past record is not very clean as regard to Bhutan but we must give a try to mend our fences by not repeating our past mistakes. It is interesting to note that previously SAARC conference use to fail due to India interference in the internal affairs of the member countries but hopefully this is not going to happen this time. Bhutan, which is hosting of the SAARC summit next year, is likely to bring member countries to a single platform. India needs to end its imperialist and capitalist approach to bring real change in this region.

The time has changed; Bhutan should be allowed to make its own independent decision and treated at par with other countries of the world. It is a time to get united for which SAARC can act as a powerful platform in bringing South Asian nations together. India has taken a good step in connection with cooperation with neighbouring countries in the shape of recent agreements; it is high time for other countries to follow the path of regional cooperation.
(From Pakistan Observer, December 30, 2009)