Thimphu has been strategic in handling New Delhi and Kathmandu and suppressing the voices from within the country. To continue the reign from within the royal family and its extended relatives, Thimphu has left no stones unturned, even if it had to resort to killing, incarceration and eviction of opposition and potential oppositions.
First handpicked by the palace, then voted by selected citizens through a toss election between two royalist parties, the tossed Druk Phensum Tshogpa (DPT), began to rule Bhutan since 2008. DPT needs a fresh mandate from people to show to the world and to continue its rule after 2013. When DPT was freshly elected to the office, there was a transition of power in the USA too. George Bush-led Republican Party lost the national election to Democratic Party. Barack Obama, who confessed during the election that he knew very little on what was going on tiny Himalayan Bhutan, swept the election by a majority and became the 44th US President.
Prior to Obama’s landslide victory in USA, Thimphu was under constant dialogue with US diplomats regarding an amicable solution of the Thimphu evicted Bhutanese citizen, who survived under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and international supports. The US has limited role in Bhutan. Under pressure from the UNHCR, which needed aid to support Thimphu evicted Bhutanese citizen in Nepal for decades, and out of fear of increasing influence of communism on the refuges, US wanted to diffuse the tension in South Asia caused due to prolonged refugee issue. Finally, the US decided to accept more than half of the total population of Bhutanese refugees under UNHCR’s third country resettlement program. From political aspect, Washington’s only big interest is to multiply “US loving hearts” in South Asia. The beginning could be from Bhutan and Bhutanese people. There has been some exchange visits of diplomats from both the countries. The US has been looking for ways to deal with Bhutan for mutually beneficial diplomacy. To the US, this comes under a low priority issue, but it has a tremendous effect on Bhutan. Bhutan was obedient to India for its foreign policies for long time and US was a silent observer.
In 2007, Indo-Bhutan treaty of 1949 was amended. A phrase from the earlier treaty, “Bhutan agrees to be guided by India in its foreign policies” was rephrased giving Bhutan her choice in her foreign policies. Within a couple of months, Dr. David C. Mulford, the then US Ambassador to India and Bhutan, reached Thimphu to acknowledge Washington’s appreciation of the new terms in the treaty and to peep into possibilities of opening diplomatic relations with Bhutan. In 2008, the monarch in Bhutan declared that it changed from autocratic to mendaciously constitutional. The US had further hopes of intimacy. By the end of 2008, the Prime Minister, the opposition leader and a bunch of parliamentarians in Thimphu’s new politics were old boys of the US universities.
Soon after the election in both the countries, US Senator McCain’s delegation reached Thimphu to ensure that Thimphu keeps with the agreements between the two countries, even after a change in power in both countries. The US diplomats, sincere to their words, began massive resettlement of the Bhutanese refugees from camps in Nepal to different American states. Seven more countries courteously agreed to resettle additional 20,000 Bhutanese to their countries. There were agreements and understandings, pinning Thimphu to take back the remaining people. The countries agreeing to resettle Bhutanese refugees wanted Thimphu to comply with two easy options: – repatriation of remaining 30,000 (less than one fourth of the total evicted) refugees, and an assurance of no further eviction.
Obama’s four year rule ends in 2012 and DPT’s a year later. Thus, there is ample time gap for the Thimphu’s wily rulers to play their sly schemes to evade repatriation and lead the situation in the camps to deteriorate further, compelling all the refugees to seek third country resettlement and remain physically far from their homes. In between, the Thimphu government is constantly evicting the citizens. Political prisoners, who have completed their terms, are released only after they agree to leave country.
The present rulers in Thimphu, a metamorphosed entity of previous rulers who committed the heinous eviction of one-sixth of the total population to conserve its endangered position in power and eliminate opposition for good, want a very small number to return to Bhutan, if at all. There have been several high level delegations from Washington to Thimphu to remind the latter to correct its blunder. One of their priorities in their agenda has been the repatriation. Thimphu always expressed sincerity in words but never applied in action. First it fears, if it shows an interest to repatriation, more people will prefer repatriation to third country resettlement.
The US’s increasing skeptics in Thimphu’s sincerity in keeping with many of the written and tacit understanding between the two nations has resulted in increased frequency of high profile visits from US to Bhutan. The most remarkable deal was done on April 16-18, 2007, in Thimphu. Then, the US Ambassador to Bhutan, Dr. David C Mulford, made the deal with the Thimphu’s powers sharers including the kings, then PM Khandu Wangchuck, Home Minister Jigmi Thinley, Trade Minister Yeshe Zimba, among others. Thimphu rulers summoned to repatriate the evicted people. In the mean time, to distant the people from influence of communism, the US agreed to resettle as many Bhutanese people and as fast as possible. It was also agreed to let the resettled people retain their right to return to Bhutan even after the said ‘transformative processes’ in Bhutan. This incident increased number seeking resettlement. The right of a national, who has become refugee out of fear of persecution, to return to his country of origin after the return of normalcy, is internationally granted. Thimphu has been successful in disregarding foreign pressures. The decision was also restated during the visit of the US representative to SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Robert O Blake during his visit to Thimphu to participate in April – May 2010, during the regional summit. The recent high profile visitors include Maria Otero, the US under secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, in February 2011 and Timothy J Roemer, the US ambassador to India, who looks after Bhutan affairs, in April 2011.
During her visit, Maria reminded Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley, senior officials and civil society leaders about the past agreements and Thimphu’s obligation to resolve the mess created by them. She urged rulers in Thimphu to initiate repatriation immediately. On receiving tight lips from them, she ordered an instant halt on the resettlement process. As a result, the refugees who were ready to board plane from Kathmandu were taken back. Those on way to Kathmandu were returned to camps. By then, their huts were dismantled and they were once again without roofs. It sent waves of shocks across the world. As a consequence, emergency meeting was called in Washington to decide on the fate of Bhutanese refugees. It was decided to continue resettlement as per plan and to tighten the screw on Thimphu to be more responsible. The halted resettlement was resumed after the emergency meeting. After two months Roemer reached Thimphu to collect the views of the rulers, and to underscore changed situation, if any.
The simple strategy is that, the United States wants to see Thimphu take back the promised number of evicted citizens, before the 2012 presidential election. Failure to make it may cause poor rating on impact of Obama administration in South Asia.
Thimphu has a different approach. Thimphu knows that Washington may exert some silent pressure, but will not resort to any physical measure that may sour relations with Thimphu. Aware of Washington’s stick and carrot policy, Thimphu is strategic to harvest carrots only. Thimphu wants to move the deadline of promised repatriation to Bhutan’s election towards the end of 2013. After the US election, it expects to have new faces in Washington to deal with and linger the issue. While the new US government will be taking on its feet, Thimphu will shift the pretext to election and responsibilities on the new government. The linger of three years will give an opportunity for Thimphu to work on its sinister designs and plans to reduce the number of people enduring camp life in hope of repatriation.
Every time Thimphu’s lords speak in front of United Nations General Assembly, they have been accusing leaders in Kathmandu of non-cooperation in finding amicable solution to the Bhutanese citizens in exile. The bilateral talks ended in 2003, after ten years of fruitless deals. To exonerate her off the blame of mass eviction and to hook the blame on Kathmandu, Thimphu wants a series of result-less bilateral talks to resume and continue for long time. The government in Thimphu is yet to realize its duty of protecting its citizens. It is protecting the criminals involved in eviction by rewarding them with the land and properties of the evicted citizen.
In the Tom and Jerry diplomacy between Washington and Thimphu, respectively, Thimphu is successful in making uninvolved Washington bear the consequences of Thimphu’s misdeeds.
Editor’s Note : Govinda Rizal, originally from Lodrai, Gayglegphug is one of the Contributing Editors of the Bhutan News Service. He writes about the Bhutanese people in the country and in exile, and about Bhutan’s international border. He blogs at: http://redroom.com/member/govinda-rizal