Page 2 of 2 India, Bhutan: No more unequal
treaties By Sudha
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
over time, Article 2 has become something of a
burden for India, without providing any big
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
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,"
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."
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
Ramachandran is an independent
journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.