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    South Asia
     Jan 17, 2007
Page 2 of 2
India, Bhutan: No more unequal treaties
By Sudha Ramachandran

Bhutan. India needed to ensure that Bhutan wouldn't fall under Chinese influence and Bhutan wanted India's protection. The Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation served the interests of both countries then.

But the geopolitical context in which the 1949 treaty was signed no longer exists. Today, India recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region as a part of China, relations are normalizing with Beijing, and the two countries are working toward resolving their decades-long border dispute. Similarly, Bhutan has initiated talks with



China to resolve its long-standing boundary dispute, and both countries signed an agreement for the maintenance of peace and tranquility along the Sino-Bhutanese border in 1998.

Analysts in Delhi feel that Article 2 has become irrelevant. "Article 2 has not been invoked for decades," Smruti Pattanaik, research fellow at the Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, told Asia Times Online. While Thimpu has stood by New Delhi on several foreign-policy issues, it has not hesitated to differ with Delhi either.

In 1978, for instance, Bhutan opened its first diplomatic mission outside India, in Bangladesh, without consulting Delhi. It openly differed with India on international forums as well. At the sixth summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana in 1979, Bhutan, unlike India, condemned Vietnam's intervention in Cambodia. And when the Cambodian issue came up before the UN General Assembly, Bhutan voted in favor of seating the China/US-supported Democratic Kampuchea regime and against an Indian-proposed amendment that would have left the seat vacant.

While in practice Article 2 is not being implemented, its presence in the treaty has often been held up by India's critics as examples of its "hegemonic and expansionist ambitions". The allegation that India has unequal treaties with Bhutan and Nepal has been exploited by China and pro-Chinese elements in these countries to mobilize anti-India sentiment. It has provided China with ammunition to attack India for "bullying its smaller neighbors" to get them to toe its line.

So over time, Article 2 has become something of a burden for India, without providing any big benefits.

Pattanaik said Article 2 is not required for India to retain influence in Bhutan. "There is no clash of interests in the foreign policies of the two countries," she said. Bhutan is dependent on India. Its geographic location - it is landlocked and surrounded by India on three sides - makes it dependent on India for access to the sea.

Unlike Nepal, Bhutan has not been uneasy with India's influence over the country. Neither has it seen the need to use the China card to wring concessions out of India. A pro-China policy is not viable for Bhutan, as China is not in a position to sustain Bhutan economically in the long run. Supply lines into Bhutan favor India and not China.

"India will not be conceding much by doing away with Article 2," Pattanaik said.

On the contrary, "India has much to gain," the Bhutanese journalist said. "It will be seen as a country that respects the sovereignty of its neighbors."

India is waking up to the fact that its "primacy in the neighborhood could be ensured by leveraging its geographic, economic and cultural strengths and not by waving crumbling pieces of paper", said an editorial in the Indian Express. This is prompting the rethink on its approach to its neighbors.

There are reports that changes in the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Nepal are in the pipeline as well. Earlier the political parties and now the Maoists in Nepal are demanding the abrogation of that treaty, and while India will not go that far to meet their demands, it is likely that Nepal too will see a change in its equation with India.

India's neighbors are intimidated by its size, and its economic and military power. And India has not been particularly gentle in dealing with its sovereignty-sensitive smaller neighbors.

India is still far away from being the gentle giant the neighbors want it to be. However, a revised treaty will go some way in assuaging its Indo-phobic neighbors. New Delhi's new willingness to rewrite treaties to correct the imbalance in the equation with some of them is a step in the right direction.

Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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