Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Indo-Bhutan Relations: A Reality Check - IV

Portions of an article authored by Prakash Katoch titled “Dealing with Doklam” reads as follows:

“What India should do is to make an offer that China has not …….. A third possibility is that the king of Bhutan may consider selling the Doklam Plateau to India so that this bone of contention is resolved permanently. It would be prudent for the foreign policy mandarins not to let the issue lie in a state of limbo, permitting China the initiative”.

Mr. Prakash Katoch is a former Special Forces Lieutenant General of the Indian Army. This article was submitted and published on March 16, 2013.

This is the level of lunacy among the Indian Think Tank - when it comes to the issue of the Doklam Plateau. It is insane for any one to believe that a nation would sell her land to a foreign country. Even more incredible is the view that the way to solve the problem would be to ask Bhutan to sell to India the very land that is at the heart of the dispute - even while China is sitting on that very piece of land. Is there any shred of reason to think that Bhutan would be foolish enough to sell the land either to China or to India - without risking the ire of the other - with disastrous consequences? Ofcourse I realize that the views of Mr. Prakash Katoch does not represent those of the government of India - but it has to be seen from the perspective of why such an experienced and very sane and senior high ranking military officer would be driven to such insane thoughts of desperation? Make no mistake - this issue of the Doklam Plateau is very, very scary! Is there something that the Indians and the Chinese know about this track of desolate and frigid wilderness that we Bhutanese don’t?

I bring up this issue because it is time that the Bhutanese people understood the enormity of the situation facing us. Even the most remote possibility that Bhutan may be contemplating arriving at a settlement with China on the boundary dispute - particularly with respect to the possibility that Bhutan may be considering ceding the Doklam Plateau to China - drives India completely berserk! Seen from that context, it becomes clear why India did what they did during our last elections. India has shown that where this particular patch of land is concerned - they will go to any length: interfere brazenly by engineering the defeat of a political party that they see as being not sympathetic to their cause; perhaps even mount military action on Bhutan and Bhutanese territory - if it has to come to that - to protect their security interests.

Our two giant neighbors are unwilling to compromise - neither is willing to give an inch of ground and there are no signs of amicability or compromise in their stance towards the stalemate that persists. China is adamant that the Doklam Plateau belongs to them and has forcefully entrenched themselves in these areas for the past few decades. They have, even without so much as by your leave, already set up a series of road communications network within these disputed areas that connect the areas to Phari and from there on to all the way to Beijing. The truth is that whatever India or we say or do, there is no way we can dislodge them or their infrastructure from within these disputed areas. The seriousness of their occupation can be determined by taking a look at the areas on Google Earth. The disputed Doklam Plateau areas are encircled in red. You can see that the whole area is crisscrossed with a network of motor roads. Interestingly, the disputed areas of Jakarlung and Pasamlung are not indicated as disputed. On the other hand, the area on the North already ceded to China is still shown in red. May be somebody should write to Google to rectify the omission.

The Bhutanese - more precisely the Indian cartographers had included the areas of Doklam, Sinchulumpa, Dramana and Shakhatoe within the territorial boundaries of Bhutan. That is what the maps currently issued by Bhutan and India shows. But what needs to be seen is: is there a sound historical basis - as to why we can claim those areas as those belonging to Bhutan? Do we have stronger arguments than those put forward by China - in support of their claim that the areas belong to them?

Or, are our claims based on an imaginary line casually drawn across a paper map in the early 1900’s by some British colonizers - like those of the McMahon Lines - without actual verification on the ground?

Whatever the case may be, Bhutan needs to resolve the boundary issue with China without delay. Frankly speaking, neither the Doklam areas nor the Jakarlung areas or the Pasamlung areas are of any consequence to us. The reason is simple - these areas are practically uninhabitable and, unlike China and India, we do not have any strategic military considerations to worry about. For us we want peace and harmony on our borders - both to the South as well as to the North.

Both China and India understand that as far as we are concerned, we are agreeable and willing to whatever is suggested by either side. Bhutan simply does not have the bargaining power to impose our will - even our right to do so is in doubt.

But there is something that we certainly have to worry about - should this border dispute remain unresolved at the present level. There is a possibility that China may be tempted to revive their old territorial claims over what is currently Bhutanese territory. If that happens, then Bhutan stands to lose land as far as Kanglung to the East and Samdrup Jongkhar to the South.
As can be seen, according to China, the red-line border is the outer boundary of Bhutan. According to this map, Bhutan's Eastern
boundary shrinks close to Kanglung. This boundary is shown as an extension of Arunachal which China claims belongs to them.

In conclusion, one of the readers here thinks that I am anti-India. I am not. In fact, I am totally pro-India. Since the time I remember, even as a kid, I have always seen India as a nation that supported Bhutan in every sphere of our lives. I remain ever grateful. As I told an Indian author (Mr. Nitya Jacob, author of Jalyatra, India’s Traditional Water Wisdom) who interviewed me few days back, as far as I am concerned, being anti-India is almost an act of treason. We have a saying - “One does not shit on the plate from which one eats”. I believe that being frank and truthful and pointing out each other’s mistakes could actually correct the flaws that have begun to creep in into our relationship. Every partnership goes through a phase of discord and misunderstanding. But the partnership between Bhutan and India is one that is long term - it has stood the test of time. Being totally landlocked and without any land or riverine access to any other country in the region, Bhutan understands that it would not be to her interest to jeopardize the excellent relations that exits between India and Bhutan. Therefore, India should have no fears on account of Bhutan reneging on her commitments to India and her security concerns. But certainly India should learn to treat us as equal partners - and not force the chicken to fly the coop. It is bad foreign policy.

I hope that my articles will help contribute to further strengthen Indo-Bhutan relations - based on mutual respect for each other and, even more importantly, grounded on truth and reality. I hope too that some Bhutanese now understand certain realities and will not be so quick to lay blame on people and causes - without having an iota of understanding of the real issues involved.

                                                                                                       ..................... End of Series

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Indo-Bhutan Relations: A Reality Check - III

In 1998, China signed a peace agreement with Bhutan to “maintain peace and tranquility on the Bhutan-China border areas”. With this epochal event, China had, for the first time in history, recognized Bhutan as a sovereign country when she stated that “China fully respects the territorial integrity and independence of Bhutan”. For a country that had declared Bhutan as one of the five fingers of Tibet - others being Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim and Arunachal - this was a complete reversal of their earlier policy towards Bhutan.

Map showing the Five Fingers of Tibet

In her eagerness to resolve the long-standing border dispute with Bhutan, China - in 1996 offered a package deal under which they agreed to renounce their claim over the 495 sq. kms. of disputed land in the Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys - in exchange for a smaller track of disputed land measuring a total of 269 sq. kms. These areas collectively known as the “Doklam Plateau” is located in the Northwestern part of Haa - perilously close to India’s peculiarly named “chicken neck” area - the Siliguri corridor that connects their Northeastern region to the rest of the country.

 Map showing the locations of the disputed areas between Bhutan and China

Any talk of ceding the Doklam Plateau to China causes feverish nightmares to India. That is why, when India learnt that China was sending a delegation to Bhutan for the 21st round of border talks, India promptly rushed their National Security Advisor Mr. Shivshangkar Menon to “brief” the “brand-new” Bhutanese government and to “share Indian experience and knowledge of Chinese negotiation tactics to advice Thimphu on the way forward”.

That is a whole lot of hogwash. India knows that the border talks will not be conducted or influenced by the new government team but by a select group of Bhutanese negotiators who have knowledge of the issues involved and who where part of past negotiations. Mr. Menon should not have bothered - he could have simply called up our government from the comfort of his office in New Delhi and categorically stated the Indian security concerns - Bhutan would have been happy - as in the past three decades - to do their bidding.

The article at the following link should make for interesting reading:


It is increasingly becoming clear that at the core of our troubles is: foreign policy and border dispute with China.

India made noise when we accepted the appointment of the Honorary Consul of the UK early this year. Japan is desirous of establishing an Embassy here in Thimphu in 2014. It is expected that India will not make noise in this case because the perception is that Japan and India has parallel interest in certain critical areas of foreign policy. Some overtures are being made to establish French Consular service in Bhutan - but as a member of the P5, I suspect that India will effectively block that.

Foreign relations is something Bhutan can afford to pussy foot around for a while. However, how long can we remain indecisive about our border dispute with China? How long can we endure the annual incursions from the Chinese? How much more territory must we lose before we have the courage to say enough and arrive at a settlement?

This is clearly a case of being caught between a rock and a hard place.

                                                                                                  ................................. to be continued

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Indo-Bhutan Relations: A Reality Check - II

Bhutan is a small nation that neither has economic power nor military muscle. Even our geographical landmass and population base is, at best, insignificant. Thus, even if we make noise once in a while, we do so from a position of powerlessness. The precariousness of our condition is made even more perilous by our location - bang in the middle of two Asian giants with nuclear capability and unbridled ambitions for regional dominance. And yet, we have thus far survived as a sovereign nation state - even as Tibet and Sikkim got gobbled up selectively by each of these antagonistic rivals. The eel-like slipperiness with which we managed to remain out of the clutches of both of these competing colonizers must say something about the Bhutanese peoples’ adeptness at the art of peaceful co-existence.

But India seems to miss a very important point: that central to our success of being able to maintain a state of peaceful neutrality towards both the countries while, at the same time, deftly managing to avoid hostilities between the world’s most fractious nations, is: the freedom of self-determination - without interference from others and without the need for acts of political and diplomatic brinkmanship. What India did during this election was a terrible blunder - she forced a situation on us that we are in no position to handle. India has forced us into polarization - a dramatic departure from our age-old foreign policy that has helped us maintain peace and tranquility among nations. We cannot escape the consequences - nor can India. In the words of Sunanda K. Dutta-Ray:

“If one bunch of Bhutanese politicians leans towards India, another is bound to lean towards China. Given the fragility of Sino-Indian relations, this polarization is not in Bhutan’s interest. It is even less in India’s interest for the Bhutanese to have to face such a choice.”

Bhutan has been forced into making a choice and the PDP as a political party had made their choice during their election campaigns. But now, as the ruling government, the party will have to state their government’s foreign policy - in no uncertain terms. This bullying by India was unnecessary and ill advised. But Bhutan is not new to India’s bullying. I remember.

I traveled abroad for the first time in my life - in 1979. During those days, we had to transit through Indian airports since we did not have air service. One of the most frustrating and illogical impositions by India on the Bhutanese travelers was a foreign currency restriction of US$ 150.00 per person. It did not matter the duration of our trip - we could not carry more than US$150.00 per person.

In the early 80’s, as the Head of the Export Section of the Ministry of Trade & Industries, I used to be frustrated by a list known as the “Exportable Surplus List”. This was a list that we had to declare to the government of India - at the beginning of each year. Unless a good or produce/product was included in this predetermined list, Bhutan was not allowed to export any other items to a third country.

The appointment of Michael Rutland, OBE as United Kingdom’s first Honorary Consul to Bhutan has caused India to raise objections on the grounds that we have violated a tacit understanding that existed between India and Bhutan - that Bhutan will not establish any diplomatic or consular relations with any of the P5 countries. The UK is one among the permanent five.

More recently, India has arbitrarily refused to recognize Bhutan’s Travel Document as a valid and legal document for our residents to enter and travel within India. Every other country in the world accepts our Travel Document as a legitimate document issued to Bhutan’s non-national residents.

The last straw was during last month when, in the middle of our elections, India imposed what can be considered an economic blockade - similar to the one they imposed on Nepal during the 80’s - in the form of two subsidy withdrawals. Lot of Bhutanese believe that this single move decided the outcome of the elections - I personally do not subscribe to this theory.

By contrast, China is among the first countries in the world that has given Bhutan something that India has consistently denied - a sense of equalness and dignity; independence and sovereignty. That was demonstrated when China adamantly refused to include India in the Sino-Bhutan border talks - as of early 80’s. Until the late 70's, respecting the Clause 2 of the Indo-Bhutan Agreement of 1949, discussion on Bhutan’s border disputes with China were included along with those of India’s. China, having come to realize, after many rounds of fruitless discussions that India would never allow a just and reasonable settlement of Bhutan’s border issues with China - they put their foot down and clearly stated that the border disputes of independent and sovereign Bhutan can only be discussed and resolved with, and by, Bhutan. Thereafter, as of 1984, Bhutan and China held direct border talks.

Since then, 20 rounds of discussions and 30 years later, our border disputes with our northern neighbor remains unresolved - only for one principal reason: even without the presence of India during the talks, Bhutan has always had to keep in mind India’s security concerns and could not agree to Chinese proposals that directly conflicted with India’s security interests.

China has been trying hard to draw out Bhutan from India’s orbit. Bhutan is also the only country - among her fourteen neighbors - with whom China has no diplomatic ties. Bhutan has remained single minded in our support for India.

India needs to treat us with a little bit more respect than she has done so far.

                                                                                                                  ....................... to be continued

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Indo-Bhutan Relations: A Reality Check - I

Bhutan’s 2013 election was a disaster in every sense. Unfortunately few people realize WHAT happened and HOW it happened. Even fewer can comprehend WHY it happened. But of one thing I am sure - by now a whole lot of Bhutanese people have come to realize that there is no reason whatsoever to rejoice in the fact that the infamous Article 2 of the Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 1949 is no longer a clause in the revised treaty we signed with India in 2007.

India’s unabashed transgression into our domestic affairs has demonstrated that where it is an understanding between two unequal partners, there is little reason to believe that any commitment - whether written or unwritten, will be respected - particularly by the stronger of the two parties. The precariousness of our standing in this partnership became all too evident - in the aftermath of the bullying we have been subject to by India.

We had placed full trust on India and her apparent goodness. However, what they did during our last election proves that it is unwise to do so - explicitly. They have dealt us an unexpected raw deal. However, there is nothing we can do now - except swallow our pride and move on. But there is a lesson to be learnt from this shameful episode. Our vulnerability has been exposed. The honeymoon period is over - it is now time for a realty check - a time for a hard look at the facts of life.

The list of our problems runs longer than a woman’s Sunday grocery shopping list. Fifty-two years of planned developmental activities that started in 1961 saw us getting deeper and deeper into debt and dependence. Most of our problems cannot be solved overnight - but some problems are more precarious than others. These are the problems we need to solve without delay. In order of exigency, the following two issues need to be addressed without delay because they have the potential to jeopardize our very sovereignty and nationhood. 

          a. Our unresolved border dispute with our neighbor in the North; and

          b. The lopsided hydropower ventures funded and managed by India

We can no longer ignore the danger signs that have begun to emerge in recent times - surrounding the above two issues. There is an URGENT need for us to accurately comprehend the consequences of our inaction in these two matters. Thereafter, we have to deal with the problems with courage and foresight. By all means we have to take into account India’s security concerns with respect to the border issues with China. However, at the end, India has to accept that they cannot ask us to jeopardize our own security and sovereignty - in order that theirs is protected.

With respect to the hydro-power projects, we have to judge India on the basis of the nobility of their intentions. There is something not quite right about the way things have been going in that sector. It is time that we made a realistic assessment between the perceived and the real economic gains - as opposed to the social and environmental costs to the country as a consequence of these projects.

                                                                                                                                                                       ……………. to be continued

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wishing India a Joyous 67th Independence Day

Public address by the late Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in Paro on 23rd September, 1958:

“Some may think that since India is a great and powerful
country and Bhutan a small one, the former might wish to exercise pressure on Bhutan. It is therefore, essential that I make it clear to you that our only wish is that you should remain an independent country, choosing your own way of life and taking the path of progress according to your will.”

Jawaharlal Nehru was the first Prime Minister of independent India to visit Bhutan. Riding on the backs of yaks and ponies, the 69 years old Prime Minister braved chilly winds and frozen high peaks to visit Bhutan. To India, Bhutan must have meant more than a mere pawn.

On this 67th Independence Day of the Republic of India, I would like to take the opportunity to offer my felicitations to all Indians. It is significant that the Plan Talks of our XIth Five Year Plan is being discussed with the Indian Government team on this most joyous day for all Indians.

A large number of Bhutanese have been hurt by what India did during our 2013 elections - proof that the assurance given by their first Prime Minister has since been forgotten. And yet, among friends, mistakes should be condoned. But that can only happen when the perpetrator makes an attempt to erase the trust deficit that has crept in into the hearts of the Bhutanese.

This is an opportunity for India to show that they still respect and honor the assurances given by their famous Prime Minister.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Prime Minister's Trip to India

Our Hon’ble Prime Minister is due to visit India in the next few days. I am compelled to believe that, pending that visit, even our Parliamentary session has been postponed to 7th September - more than a month since the formation of the government. This is unprecedented. The new government’s first order of business should have been to convene the Parliament - post haste - and adopt the XIth Five Year Plan and pass the budget without delay. Instead, I gather that the Draft XIth Five Year Plan has been handed over to the government of India representatives - even before our Parliament discussed it. This is rather strange - certainly no Wangtse Chirphel here - perhaps it is the DNT influence - New Times, New Ideas. No sarcasm is intended - this is a serious issue. Our own Parliament must first approve our plan documents - before seeking approval or discussing it with foreign governments and aid agencies. This is soooooooooo MORBID!

Wangcha Sangey has written a powerful article on his Blog (http://www.wangchasangey.blogspot.com/) - pleading for the cause of Bhutan and the Bhutanese. I wish to do the same. However, let us first accept that harping on issues such as sovereignty, dignity and self-esteem - given our pathetic condition - is being rather naïve. It is akin to donning a thin cloak in a thick winter.

By now the whole world knows what India did to Bhutan this July - they have been blatant and shameless in their interference in our internal politics. But there are some who are quick to tell me that PDP win and India’s interference is good for the country and the people of Bhutan. That India is justified in protecting their strategic interests; that our Prime Minister shaking the hands of the Chinese Premier has undermined India’s security concerns.

All right then - let me wish our Prime Minister the very best of luck during his upcoming trip to India. I hope and wish that he would be able to get the Indians to deliver on all the promises they have been making - since the elections.

But there is something the Bhutanese people must know. The issue at stake is not of our sovereignty. That is not in doubt. What is true is that India is holding us hostage - to serve their strategic interest. It is sad that India thinks that is how they will resolve their issues with China. They miscalculated in 1962 and they are doing it once again this time.

It is in India’s interest to allow Bhutan to deal with China and our border dispute with them - as we see fit and in a manner that is beneficial to all concerned - including India. Bhutan will do nothing that will be detrimental to India’s interests. It is not in Bhutan’s interest to harm India’s interest. But India coaching PDP leadership to make a policy statement during their election campaign has serious ramifications on Bhutan. Getting rid of Prime Minister Jigme Yoezer Thinley is
not the answer to India’s problems. In fact a person like JYT - with long and varied institutional memory - is a worthier person to look objectively at issues that face both Bhutan and India in relation to China.

In the process of safeguarding India’s security concerns, we have compromised our own. That is not fair. At some point very soon, we will be required to answer a simple and straightforward question:

What is our foreign policy with respect to our neighbor in the North?

I hope the PDP government is preparing their answer with great care. How they answer will determine the nationhood of this country.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Bhutan's First Formal Modern Style Trial By Jury

A friend of mine who was passionately involved in the recent elections is still in a state of listlessness. She tells me that she is still unable to regain her mind and is contemplating moving to a third country in an attempt to forget everything that happened in the past month. For the moment she tells me that she in reading up on the history of Bhutan - to try and uncover some clues as to why things happened the way they did.

Since history is where she seeks solace, I dedicate this piece of history to her. It is my belief that few in Bhutan would be aware of this bewildering event that transpired exactly half a century ago.


Two of the earliest Chillips to visit Bhutan were a couple of Portuguese Priests - Father Estevao Cacella and Father João Cabral. They visited Bhutan in the year 1627 and spent eight months in the country - before they crossed over into Tibet. During their long stay in the country, they met the Zhabdrung and sought and obtained his permission to convert any and all Bhutanese into the Christian faith. The audacity of the priests! - they even attempted to persuade the Zhabdrung to accept Jesus as his God and Savior. But the Zhabdrung declined politely - saying that conversion to a faith that did not belong to his ancestors would cause him to die on the spot. 

The two Portuguese Fathers did not succeed in converting any one in Tibet either - in fact one of them died there, still trying. On the other hand, my friend in Portugal wrote his Doctorial thesis on the two Fathers and their visit to Bhutan and Tibet - arguing that the Fathers’ intensions were not entirely ecclesial - but more war like.

Some three and a half centuries later, another intriguing Chillip becomes a little known, but an indelible part of Bhutan’s history. His name was Edward St. George - a barrister by vocation and a British by birth.

Edward St. George and third wife Lady Henrietta with His Majesty
King Jigme Singye Wangchuck during a revisit to Bhutan in 2002

It is not known when exactly he arrived Bhutan but a passage in the book “Hearts and Life and the Kingdom of Bhutan” by Dr. Aubrey Leatham tells us that he was in Bhutan during the autumn of 1963. However, it is not this visit that is of interest to us - but his subsequent visit - during April of 1964 that we are concerned with.

Edward St. George was a close friend of the late Prime Minister Jigme Palden Dorji and his younger brother late Dasho Lhendup Dorji (Lenny) whom he is supposed to have met while studying in Oxford, England. He passed away in Houston, Texas, USA on December 20, 2004, aged 76.

Edward St. George with Dasho Benji and late Dasho Rimp

Edward St. George’s second visit is linked to the assassination of the late Prime Minister Jigme Palden Dorji. Written records show that he rushed to Bhutan upon hearing news of the late Prime Minister's assassination. Since he was a friend, I am tempted to believe that he came to offer his condolences to the bereaved family. But that is pure conjecture because, subsequently, it transpires that he played a central role in the framing of charges and the prosecution of the case involving the assassination of the late Prime Minister Jigme Palden Dorji.

The late Prime Minister Jigme Palden Dorji was assassinated in Phuentsholing on the night of 5th April, 1964. Information available in the public domain tells us that an army corporal by the name of Jambey fired the bullet that killed the Prime Minister. He was arrested on 8th April, 1964. To everybody’s consternation, during the course of the interrogation, Jambey revealed that he committed the act under orders from Chabda Namgye Bahadur who was then the Chief of Army.

Interestingly, the person who tracked down and arrested Jambey on the night of 8th April, 1964 was one Pelpon (Sergeant) Nob Gyeltshen - father of our current Prime Minister, His Excellency Tshering Tobgay.

The Royal Enquiry Commission that was constituted to enquire into the circumstances of the assassination was headed by late Dasho Gyaldoen Thinley Dorji - father of Ex-Prime Minister His Excellency Jigme Yoezer Thinley.

During a time when a proper judicial system was virtually none-existent, Edward St. George conducted the Kingdom’s first formal modern style trial by jury of the assassin and the accomplices in the case of the assassination of the Prime Minister. In 1964 this must have been something absolutely mind boggling to the people of Bhutan. Even more strange, it is impossible to comprehend why an Englishman was charged with the responsibility to oversee the trial of one of Bhutan's most controversial cases of murder and intrigue.

The following is how the trail was described:

“The assassination of his close friend Prime Minister Jigme Dorji, by the Commander-in-Chief of the army, occasioned the kingdom’s first formal trial by jury. To local amazement, he convened a court of ‘oyer and terminer’ and insisted the accused was treated with dignity; shaved and properly attired. Despite having written it, he always said the ‘summing up’ was so moving that the King, the apologetic accused, the whole court and even he himself were in tears. The King then sent the crown prince (and present King), daughters and a nephew to England with Edward to be educated. This nephew Paljor Dorji, nicknamed ‘Benji’ became Bhutan’s first Chief Justice, despite studying ‘the Sporting Life’ newspaper more diligently than his tomes on jurisprudence.”

Zhabdrung unified Bhutan and administered the country through a dual system of governance - spiritual affairs being headed by the Je Khenpo and the temporal matters by the Druk Desi.