Govindu and Jay Malkani
a small kingdom nestled in the folds of the
Eastern Himalayan range, is sandwiched between India
and the Tibetan Region of China to the north.
Rugged geography has contributed to its
isolation for over three centuries and forged a
The Bhutanese refer to their country as the Druk Yul,
"land of the thunder dragon" named for
sound of the rolling thunder in the mountains.
The name Bhutan is derived from the Sanskrit
word 'Bhotant', meaning 'the end of Tibet', or from
'Bhu-uttan', meaning 'high land'. Bhutan, a living
Eden, with about 70% forestation is among the ten
bio-diversity hot spots in the world and is divided
into three geographic zones.
The Southern region consists of low
foothills, contrasted by Central Bhutan's rich
valleys and towering mountain ranges in the North[i].
Map of Bhutan copyright www.bharat-rakshak.com
is a country undergoing a transformation led by a
progressive monarch, His Highness Jigme-Singye
last few decades have witnessed incremental
political reform and greater modern influence.
The nation faces an arduous journey of
change; it has to balance modern influence with
Inherent in any change is uncertainty and
Bhutan faces uncertainty both inside and outside its
purpose of this article is to act as a primer, and
provide the reader with a greater insight into the
history and political issues facing Bhutan.
origin of Bhutan and its early history is steeped in
Buddhist tradition. An important milestone in the
history of Bhutan is the
visit of Padama Sambhava in 747 AD.
Following that no record of Bhutan’s exists
until the arrival of yet another Tibetan monk, Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal, from the Ralung
Monastery of Tibet in 1616 A.D. Over the next 30
years, it is said he unified the country and established the
foundations for national governance and Bhutanese
identity. From the 1600s till the early 1900s, the
Shabdrungs were Bhutan's spiritual and political
rulers. In 1907, the office of the Shabdrungs was
The historic assembly of the clergy, official
administration, and the people unanimously elected
Gongsar Ugen Wangchuck as the first hereditary King
Ugen Wangchuck became the first king with British
approval largely due to his support of
incursions into Tibet. Gongsar Ugen Wangchuck
was succeeded by his son Jigme Wangchuck in 1926.
Jigme Wangchuck ruled the kingdom until 1952[iii].
He was followed by Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, it
was under his rule that the process of modernization
began, he initiated planned development and improved
quality of life for his subjects.
Bhutan also sloughed off its `Shangri-La' image
and improved ties with the international community. King Dorji Wangchuck was succeeded by his 16-year-old son, Jigme
His Highness Jigme Singye Wangchuck[iv] is a dynamic monarch who
continues to steer the kingdom into the 21st century
and People [vi]
national flag represents the two pillars of the
country. The orange represents the Buddhist faith,
the saffron yellow represents the monarchy and the
thunder dragon is representative of the land and the
Bhutanese National Flag [vii]
is an undeveloped country and most of its economy is
based on agriculture, forestry, trade with India and
has limited infrastructure due to its terrain but
has enormous hydroelectric power generation
the outward appearance, Bhutan is a heterogeneous
is home to several ethnicities, the three main
groups are the Drupkas, Sharchops and Lhotshampas.
The Drukpas live in the northwestern region
belong to Tibetan ancestry, considered to be the
politically and economically dominant group. The
royal family belongs to this group, Drukpa Kargyupa
Buddhism and the language Dzonkha are adopted as the
national religion and language.
who inhabit in eastern and central Bhutan, are
part of the Nyingmapa sect of Mahayana Buddhism.
They are of Tibeto-Burman ancestry. The third major
ethnic group is the Lhotshampas, they speak Nepali,
practice mostly Hinduism and migrated from Nepal and
India. Additionally, there is an Indian community of
nearly 20,000 people, mostly traders, laborers or on
governmental deputation working with the Government
of Bhutan [x].
Bhutan treads on a path towards modernization,
issues on defining itself are bound to surface.
In the last decade, Bhutan has insisted on
documentation proving that a person is of Bhutanese
has resulted in the displacement of the Lhotshampas
from southern Bhutan. The displacement is borne out of a citizenship issue, as many
Lhotshampas do not have the appropriate
According to official statistics released in
2002, approximately 125,000 Bhutanese refugees live
in Nepal and India mostly in UN refugee camps.
The Government of Bhutan fully acknowledges
the problem of the refugees and has opened dialogue
with Nepal in an effort to resolve this outstanding
addition to the refugee problem, Bhutan faces the
constant threat from the Ngolop problem.
The term `Ngolops’ refers to outsiders or
The government of Bhutan blames these Ngolops
for attacks on its citizens, security forces, and
past riots in Thimpu. Furthermore they are also accused of desecrating shrines and
problem occupies the small number and limited
resources of the Bhutanese security forces [xii].
insulated itself over the decades from the influence
of social and political forces of the outside world.
The reasons for this inward looking nature are believed to be a low
literacy rate, a low political consciousness and
terrain that limits contact with the outside world.
Bhutanese are very protective of their
culture, tradition and environment. The Government
of Bhutan generally restricts the media, though in 1999
it did introduce television and Internet services.
The state welfare system by contrast is quite mature with
education and health services provided free.
the years, there has been a slow but a steady
progress from absolute Monarchy towards more
pluralistic government. The establishment of
District Development Committees in 1981 was the
first step in this direction.
This was followed in 1991 by Block
Development Committees and the introduction of a
system wherein the National Assembly would elect a
council of Ministers by secret ballot and cabinet
gets the full executive powers. The national
assembly of Bhutan consists of 154 people, of these
105 are representatives of the people, the King
appoints 37 members, mostly from the bureaucracy and
the clergy appoints the last 12 members.
was admitted to the United Nations in 1971 and
opened a permanent mission in New York City in 1972.
Bhutan and India mutually agree on a wide
spectrum of international issues.
Bhutan has limited diplomatic contact with
It maintains embassies in five countries
India, Bangladesh, Kuwait, and the United Nations in
Geneva and New York and only India and Bangladesh
have embassies in Bhutan.
Bhutan does not have diplomatic relations
with China, although it is believed that China is
pressing for the establishment of diplomatic
relations, and some Bhutanese view China as a
potential solution to its internal and external
Bhutan, the special relationship
a landlocked country but between China and India,
Bhutan was bound to tilt into a friendly
relationship with at least one of them. In 1910, provoked largely due to aggressive Chinese territorial claims,
Bhutan signed a treaty enabling British India to
guide its foreign relations. This policy was
continued by Independent India, in the Peace and
Friendship Treaty of 1949.
Bhutan's spiritual and historical ties to
Tibet, and China's oppressive reign in Tibet has
shaped Indo - Bhutanese relations.
Peace and Friendship treaty of 1949 forms the basis
of relationship between the two countries.
It is considered a working treaty for both
is purposeful as it accommodates a change in
perspective and needs of either Bhutan or India.
It guarantees non-interference in Bhutan's
internal affairs while allowing New Delhi to guide
its foreign relations.
Bhutan has shown interest to be independent
in its foreign relations and to get international
actively helped Bhutan conduct its foreign relations
and also helped Bhutan to join the UN. Bhutan
generally concurs with Indian views in international
forums but Bhutan is not completely bound by Indian
policy decisions. For example, Bhutan has initiated dialogue
with Nepal about the refugees independent of India.
to India's strategic view, Bhutan falls under its
security umbrella and Prime Ministers since
Jawaharlal Nehru's time have been very vocal
about it. Sri. Nehru declared in the Indian parliament in
November 1959 that "any aggression against
Bhutan would be regarded as an aggression against
debacle of Tawang in the 1962 War, made Bhutan skeptical about
India’s capability to look after its defense.
This temporarily eroded confidence however was
restored following the successful liberation of
Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. Today India trains Bhutan's security forces and
funds a large part of its military budget.
economy is strongly linked to India.
The Ngultrum, Bhutan's currency, is on par
with the Indian Rupee [xiv],
which is also considered legal tender.
India has been the largest donor of external
aid to Bhutan and its main development partner.
Indian initiatives are calculated in Bhutan’s Five
Year Economic Development Plans.
In fact, the first two were completely funded
by India and has generously contributed to the other
Five-year plans. In addition, India also funds all
major development and infrastructure projects in
Bhutan, monetarily, in terms of technical assistance
and skilled workforce. A free trade regime exists
between India and Bhutan, and India remains the
biggest market for Bhutan’s exports and the source
of most of its imports.
and India's Northeast
strategic location, geographic features, and limited
security resources provide an ideal setting for
opportunistic terrorist groups fighting India.
Since early 1992, terrorists of North-east
India have taken unauthorized shelter in Bhutan. The
United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), National
Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and Kamtapuri
Liberation Organization (KLO) have established camps
in the forests that run along the Indo-Bhutan border
and have also established bases in southern, eastern
and central Bhutan. These groups collaborate
resources in training, shelter, money, weapons and
ULFA and the NDFB
clandestine activities inside Bhutan have increased
since 1995 after its presence in Bangladesh had to
be curtailed under pressure from the Indian
government [xvi]. According to estimates,
approximately 36 ULFA camps are now located in the
forests of southern Bhutan and the Samdrup Jongkhar
(Samdruk Dzonkha) area. The ULFA also has linkages
with several officers and personnel of the Royal
Bhutan Army and Police.
This ensures a steady flow of logistical
support as well as a money-laundering network [xvii].
ULFA has a reported strength of around 2000 cadres
distributed between the General Headquarters,
Council Headquarters, a Security-Training Camp
and a well-concealed `Enigma' Base[xviii].
camps and establishments are believed to be located in Sandrup
Jongkhar, a district in Southern Bhutan that borders
Assam’s Nalbari district. A road from Sandrup
Jongkhar runs via the towns of Darrangamela,Tamulpur
and Rangia connecting eastern Bhutan with one of
Assam’s biggest cities, Guwahati. The
Darrangamela-Tamulpur-Rangia road from Sandrup
Jongkhar is considered the most important
"revolutionary artery" in the region. The
NDFB also has a number of camps and acts in
collaboration with ULFA. The NDFB cadres use the
Manas National Park as a corridor to slip in and out
of Bhutan [xix].
Map of the "Revolutionary Artery"
The Government of India and the state
government of Assam have impressed upon the government
of Bhutan the need for a joint Indo-Bhutan army
operation to drive out these terrorists from
In 1996, India and Bhutan have concluded an
extradition agreement, making it more effective to
deal with cross border terrorism and organized
crime. Bhutan's initial rounds of talks in 1998 and
1999 with ULFA militants for leaving their territory
were inconclusive and meanwhile, the number of ULFA
camps inside Bhutan steadily rose.
In June 2000 the Bhutan’s National Assembly
decided on a four-pronged strategies to resolve the
The strategy involved the following points:
To continue peaceful negotiations with the militants
to try and make them leave the country peacefully
To stop ration and other supplies to the camps of
To punish all persons who helped the militants in
accordance with the National Security Act; and,
As a last resort, use military action to evict them
from Bhutanese soil.
was also ready to conduct joint operations (Op
Rhino) with Indian security forces at ULFA and NDFB
bases in Bhutan as the talks were hitting a
deadlock. However, the need for long term stationing
of troops made the operation impractical.
There are as yet no confirmed reports that
the two governments have taken a joint action or
conducted joint raids. In June 2001, the Royal
Government of Bhutan reached an understanding with
ULFA militants to close down four of their camps in
Bhutan by the end of December 31 2001 and to hold
discussions on winding down of the remaining camps.
Reports indicate that four camps have been
There are also indications that ULFA has plans to
reduce their presence in Bhutan. However persuasion of
the ULFA to leave Bhutan seems to be a
short-term solution and in the long term other
solutions have to be looked at [xxi].
government of Bhutan does not patronize terrorist
groups operating against India.
Bhutan's reluctance to conduct military
operation against the terrorist groups stems from
Bhutanese security forces strained by the
internal Ngolop problem do not have enough strength
to launch an offensive against these terrorist
fears reprisal attacks against its citizens, if it launches offensives against ULFA and Bodo
factor is that public opinion favors peaceful
resolution to military operations.
The people are highly concerned about the
presence of terrorists within Bhutan and its
long-term impact on the country.
However, public opinion is divided, one
section contends that India has the responsibility
to solve the problem, while another states that
Bhutan should not involve any external power into
Bhutan's desire to resolve issues thru dialogue, the
terrorist groups continue to have a negative impact
on the country.
In December 2000, ULFA terrorists attacked
Bhutanese citizens in Assam[xxii].
These groups are also responsible for several
raids and armed robberies on businessmen and
Additionally, the presence of ULFA and other
terrorist groups could worsen Bhutan's existing
It seems likely to the authors that the
numerous terrorist groups operating from within
Bhutanese territory could in principle form
synergistic links to the Ngolops.
is a microcosm of the Indian subcontinent, a nation
in flux between tradition and modernity.
A complex array of internal and external security issues
threaten its existence.
Bhutanese people face tough decisions on a wide
variety of problems such as the refugee situation,
presence of terrorist groups and modernization.
India is Bhutan's long time ally and friend
and is ready to assist her in any way necessary. It is in India's interest to see the kingdom as a secure and
prosperous country that is economically integrated
into the region.
Assam Tribune 25 years A King - His Majesty king
Zigme Singye Wangchuck.