New treaties for old

Bhutan gets more foreign policy autonomy

Last week, Bhutan’s new king and India’s somewhat new foreign minister renewed an old bilateral treaty. Under its terms, Bhutan is no longer obliged to takes its foreign policy cue from India. It will also allow the landlocked Himalayan kingdom to import arms without India’s approval. The new treaty is marked “by a language of cooperation, which would essentially translate into Thimpu not acting against Indian interests in the conduct of its foreign policy”. India’s decision to untether Bhutan has been explained on the grounds on their strong mutual friendship, Bhutan’s remarkable march towards constitutional democracy and more generally, to the winds of change blowing in the region.

Those who argue that the unparalleled history of friendship justifies India’s magnanimity are deluding themselves. Similarly, Bhutan’s transformation into a constitutional monarchy is not contingent on it acquiring autonomy in foreign policy matters. Those who argue that India retains a lot of leverage—in practical terms—on Thimphu despite relaxing its hold are on firmer ground, at least for the time being. The argument that is farthest out comes from the Calcutta Telegraph, which argues that “New Delhi’s move to unshackle Thimphu could be a message to Beijing to follow the example in Tibet”.

While getting Beijing to unshackle Lhasa might remain wishful thinking, the new India-Bhutan treaty could not have been drafted without accounting for the two countries’ respective relations with China. Bhutan and China have a long running dispute along the 470km Bhutan-Tibet border. In addition to a serious incursion in 1979, China has periodically encroached on Bhutanese territory. Settlement of the dispute, according to China, requires the two countries to have formal bilateral relations. Essentially, this has been China’s way of challenging Indian influence over Bhutan. With the new treaty, Bhutan will be able to exchange diplomatic missions with China. So is India testing Beijing’s readiness to resolve border disputes? Or is the new treaty part of a wider rapprochement between India and China on settling Himalayan borders? It could be either.

There is also another possibility. Is the new treaty with Bhutan simply a move to create a precedent to justify renegotiating a similar one with Nepal?

5 thoughts on “New treaties for old”

  1. The old treaty belongs to a bygone era. The new treaty sounds more in sync with the times.But with Bhutan now moving towards a multi-party democracy there is a possibility of some politicians going for an anti-India platform like has happened in many of our other neighbouring countries like Nepal, bangladesh, srilanka etc… to gain votes and divert attention from their own shhortcomings.

    There is also a possibility of Maoist insurgency aided and abetted by China and Pakistan like it has happened in Nepal.

    And i have no doubt about the way our political and diplomatic establishment will deal with these challenges.

    – with utmost incompetence

    and opportunities

    – will definitely and most certainly miss most of them and botch up the rest.

    While all the while giving politically correct statements about how India’s response will be keeping its own interests in mind and that they are committed to the cause of democracy and freedom in Bhutan while at the same time another chinese lackey will be knocking at the gates of the King’s palace and raping and pillaging the countryside in the name of “liberating” the people and ushering in a “people’s paradise”.

  2. Apollo,

    I’d be more sceptical of the political motivations than of the performance of our diplomats.

  3. Nitin, I’am sceptical of both. Most of them(not all) in the MEA are both incompetent and woolly headed liberals at the same time.

  4. What do Kolkata’s Telegraph editors smoke? I wonder if India would come to Bhutan aid if Chinese take over the country one dark night? I doubt that very much. I hope Bhutan forms a stable country, but its in a troubled neighbourhood.

    I thought we already signed a new treaty with Nepal recently.

  5. I wonder if India would come to Bhutan aid if Chinese take over the country one dark night? I doubt that very much.

    As per the old treaty an attack on Bhutan would be considered as an attack on India itself and India would be obliged to go to war against the aggressor. wonder what the new treaty says.

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