Guardian of peace and harmonyBhutan is emerging as a responsible kingdom. By protecting and preserving its unique cultural values and steadily accepting democratic norms, it has been able to secure a unique place on the world stage. Bhutan is on the path to becoming a responsible nation, but it needs support to realise the progress we anticipate.
Bhutan is emerging as a responsible kingdom. By protecting and preserving its unique cultural values and steadily accepting democratic norms, it has been able to secure a unique place on the world stage. Bhutan is on the path to becoming a responsible nation, but it needs support to realise the progress we anticipate. This tiny Himalayan Kingdom has missed many opportunities to become a true guardian of peace and harmony. This time, Bhutan has a new prime minister and a young and benevolent Oxford-educated king. It is very likely that this government will deeply consider sustainable peace and development, social inclusion and social justice as a fundamental part of its ‘good governance’ which falls within the parameter of Gross National Happiness domains.
Almost three decades ago, more than 100,000 Lhotshampa and some Sharchop families left their homeland, alleging government threats to their safety and security. They ran for their lives. Neither the International Criminal Court nor the UN Human Rights Council ordered an investigation into their allegations. Many Western independent human rights organisations published copious first-hand documentary evidence, but Bhutan has consistently repudiated such findings.
Since then, the two parties involved—the government of Bhutan and the refugees in exile—continue to blame each other for the conflict. Bhutan on many occasions termed Bhutanese refugees ‘ready-made terrorists’. Refugees called the government of Bhutan ‘rapists and human rights violators’. Despite this rhetoric, many encouraging changes occurred during this period, which the two parties and regional, and international powers must consider.
Bhutan adopted its first constitution in 2008. This historic juncture replaced the royal decree of 1953 that provided the monarch infinite power. Since then, people voted into office two Western-educated prime ministers. The first prime minister engaged with the government of Nepal and vowed to repatriate Bhutanese refugees from the camps. The process halted indefinitely as the government of Bhutan put forward unapproved conditions for the eligible returnees. The whole game was turned topsy-turvy when the resettlement process began in 2008. Recently, there is renewed hope as Nepal’s Home Ministry has invited Bhutan for bilateral talks to decide the fate of the residual refugees in the camps.
Amid refugee problems, international pressure, national security problems and boundary skirmishes with China, Bhutan is continuously changing in the fastest possible manner—socially, politically and economically. Most of the refugees have been dispersed around the world and have started new lives, but Bhutan remains a shining beacon in their collective memory. Currently, about 6,000 remain in two refugee camps in Nepal. As a result of their long journey outside Bhutan, their shared identity and the sense of belongingness remain bruised even if they are living well-off lives elsewhere. They can never be fully pleased and spiritually satisfied without a benevolent closure of their unresolved past.
Nations thrive in peace. The conflict that remains unresolved can create havoc and distort peace and order in the region. Building peace is not only a private affair of those who are involved in the conflict, but also of the regional and international powers. As India is a significant regional power, it is imperative that India afford its generous support to Bhutan and Nepal to peacefully conclude this issue. Even after the modification of the India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty in 2007, India maintains total influence over Bhutan’s domestic, economic and foreign affairs.
Bhutan has been working hard to establish the face of a genuinely peaceful kingdom to the world; but because of this unresolved issue, it often encounters setbacks. The exiled Bhutanese can play a crucial role in improving Bhutan’s success. They can financially back their families left in Bhutan, and contribute to the education, health, and small-scale infrastructure development which eventually add to the overall economy of the nation. Smooth and secure mobility of the exiled Bhutanese within Bhutan can bridge the gap, develop understanding and strengthen bonds among the Bhutanese. These activities ultimately help to improve ‘happiness’ and repair Bhutan’s smeared image in the world.
To Bhutanese scattered around the world, the illustrious Kingdom of Bhutan will continue to be a beacon of enlightened governance for the world as a whole, showing nations and peoples how sustainable development includes social inclusion and social justice as an integral part of its policy. Knowing that this needs to be treated with the highest compassion, diplomacy and admiration, both parties and regional and international powers have no choice but to support Bhutan to reasonably solve this problem where no parties will lose credibility. For this, Bhutan needs trusted friends who will work with it instead of using pressure tactics that will prolong the peace process and fail to rectify Bhutan’s image on the global stage.
Budathoki a former Bhutanese Refugee and one of the peace ambassadors of the World Institute for Peace