Round Table Discussion on ‘India-Bhutan Relations: Recent Developments and Implications’
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The Dokalam crisis, i.e. the border stand-off between China and India, which had kept the bilateral ties between the two neighbouring countries on the boil for over two months, came to a peaceful resolution on Aug 28, 2017, with both sides disengaging their troops from what had seemed like an eyeball to eyeball confrontation. While the crisis has been resolved for now, its recurrence in some form or the other along the India-China border cannot be ruled out, especially with China taking the unsettled border as an excuse to push its territorial claims in contested territories. Significantly, the place of occurrence of the incident in western Bhutan - part of a territory contested by China - lies close to India’s proverbial ‘Chicken’s Neck’ i.e. Siliguri Corridor, which connects India’s northeastern states to the rest of India. The root cause of the stand-off was lack of progress in the Sino-Bhutanese boundary talks which essentially is due to different stands taken by both China and Bhutan (a la India) on the suggested alignment of the boundary. Further, China attempted to alter the status quo on the ground with a view to strengthening its claim in the area.

With the crisis blown over, the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) on 18 Sep 2017 put together an assembly of some of India’s finest strategic thinkers and security experts to deliberate upon a range of pertinent questions which the border stand-off at Doka La left in its wake. A few prominent among the questions that were put before a panel of distinguished speakers and experts include: ‘What are the security implications for India as a result of the recent developments in western Bhutan?’; ‘Is sovereignty which is Bhutan’s bottom line for India-Bhutan relations under question?’; ‘What contours of India-Bhutan relationship are likely to emerge in future?’; ‘Is there a need to revisit India-Bhutan relations keeping in view changing geo-political realities?’; ‘How can India leverage/ensure continued support from Bhutan in consonance with its (Bhutan’s) growing desire to be economically more independent and the likelihood of its establishing a diplomatic relations with China?’; and finally, ‘In the changing political context in Bhutan, is there a need to explore possibilities of strengthening links through mechanisms other than the bilateral one?’

There were two lead discussants to the conference: Major General (Retd) AK Bardalai, former Head of the Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT) in Bhutan, and Amb VP Haran, India’s former Ambassador to Bhutan. While the former dwelt on ‘India-Bhutan Relations: Implications for Security’, the latter talked about ‘India-Bhutan relations in Changing Times’. Each session was followed up with a Q&A session. With General NC Vij, Director, VIF, in the Chair, Shri Shekhar Dutt, former Governor Chhattisgarh and former Defence Secretary, Amb Satish Chandra, former Deputy National Security Advisor, Amb Ashok Sajjanhar, India’s former Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia, and other specialists on diplomacy and security participated in the discussions.

Event Date: 
September 18, 2017