India must respect Bhutan’s sovereignty

The muscle flexing of the two rising powers in Asia is posing serious threat to the very stability in Himalayas this summer. The tussle is between the uncompromising New Delhi and Beijing whereas pain is transferred to the local residents who fear tension escalation means their life in danger.

On top of that, it’s primarily the sovereignty-threat of another small country Bhutan whose border dispute protruded into this regional tension. The dispute should have been between Bhutan and China since the road construction was claimed to be inside Bhutanese border – the disputed border.

Indian political parties and media hyped the situation and Indian military marched ahead for confrontation. India’s hyperactive character has undermined the sovereignty of Bhutan. India has not acted in Bhutan’s favour but projected it can decide on behalf of Bhutan.

Historically, India has always undermined sovereignty of its smaller neighbours. Bhutan was the last country to accept India as a positive neighbour and this is fast eroding.

Since 1998 when Bhutan and China decided to finalise border demarcation through dialogue, India indiscriminately interfered and obstructed Bhutan’s willingness to establish peace in the Himalayas. Sans India, Bhutan-China border would have resolved years ago. India maintains, Bhutan, who receives billions as grants from the southern neighbour, must remain obedient to it. It must remain a disciple, a loyal follower. Its time, India must adhere by what Jawaharlal Nehru said in Paro during his visit in 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.”

Bhutan, at its best, maintains this status, yet it is making gradual efforts to distance from the Indian hegemony of describing Bhutan as its protectorate. Bhutan wants to return to its historic and cultural shelves of Tibet while India continues its undesirable presence in northern Bhutan.

Bhutan has spoken only once since the Doklam stand off. Bhutan said it does not accept Chinese presence in the dispute area and hinted at ending conflicting situation at the earliest possible. The continued Indian media coverage and political talk in Delhi are indication that Bhutanese statement was circulated under Indian pressure.

Bhutanese foreign ministry statement reads, ‘Bhutan has conveyed to the Chinese side, both on the ground and through the diplomatic channel, that the construction of the road inside Bhutanese territory is a direct violation of the agreements and affects the process of demarcating the boundary between our two countries. Bhutan hopes that the status quo in the Doklam area will be maintained as before 16 June 2017.’

India continued is propaganda saying the Chinese had intruded into India territory. China had rightly maintained, the dispute is between Thimphu and Beijing, India has nothing to do here. India could have come forward to help to Bhutan against China’s intrusion but Bhutan hasn’t said it has sought such help. The dispute is not in tri-junction as claimed by Indian media but clearly on China-Bhutan border in Haa district.

It’s on India’s onus whether it wants the tension to escalate and face possible humiliating defeat at Chinese hands or dispel diplomatic channel to ease the tension. India must respect Bhutanese sovereignty – not take it as granted.

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