Between China, India and the Refugees: Understanding Bhutan’s National Security Scenario
There are few countries in the world, whose bare existence is more surprising than Bhutan’s, given the recent political developments in the Asian region. Landlocked and trapped by geography, roughly 700,000 people live on 39,000 square km tugged between Asia’s two giants - India and China. Bhutan not only withstood numerous attempts to conquer by the Tibetans and Mongols, but also managed to evade colonization and the resultant incorporation into the British Raj, despite two wars against the British. Eventually, the treaty of Punakha, signed in 1910, formally secured Bhutanese sovereignty vis-a-vis the British in exchange for their guidance in external affairs. This provision was also adopted in the friendship treaty between newly independent India and Bhutan in 1949. In 1962, Bhutan luckily escaped Chinese hostilities and aggressions during the Sino-Indian war that was fought on both sides of its border. Finally, towards the end of the last century, Bhutan eluded Sikkim’s fate, though it applied disputable policies to safeguard its independence.
While Bhutan successfully secured its independence and sovereignty in the 20th century, new threats to its national security have emerged. Bhutan’s strategic importance as a buffer between India and China, its complicated geography and limited resources leave the government without much room for manoeuvre. But a careful assertion of its national interest and cherishing its close ties with India, may help Bhutan in resolving or dealing with the emerging threats.