It appears as if a regrouping of Indian militants in the vast forests of Bhutan’s southern districts could be prevented so far, although every once in a while reports claim that ULFA, NDFB, or KLO have set up new camps in Bhutan. The royal government vehemently rejects such claims and there is no valid information as to this regard. But as a matter of fact, insurgents are at least crossing the border into Bhutan from time to time, which becomes evident from increasing reports of Bodo militants attacking and robbing Bhutanese houses especially in Sarpang district.
Though there is no imminent danger from Indian insurgents, apart from sporadic burglaries, other
developments connected with these groups are threatening Bhutan’s national security. Reports indicate that there exists a cross-border-nexus between Indian insurgent groups and anti-national outfits in Bhutan and Nepal. ULFA and Bodo militants have established ties to organizations like the Communist Party of Bhutan, the Bhutan Tiger Force and the Revolutionary Youth of Bhutan, providing them with training and weapons.
Especially the CPB has been active in Bhutan during recent years, being responsible for numerous terrorist attacks on Bhutanese soil. Since 2008 there has been a violent series of IED attacks on security forces, civilians, buildings and infrastructure, leaving 4 people dead and app. a dozen wounded. These groups mainly have their recruiting grounds in the refugee camps on the Nepalese border and amongst the ethnic Nepalese community in southern Bhutan.
PURSUING UNITY IN DIVERSITY
THE CASE OF NEPALEE REFUGEES Without going into the historical background of the refugee problem in Bhutan and without reiterating both sides’ same old positions on the subject, finding a way to cope with the remainders of the refugee problem and the ethnic Nepalese minority in Bhutan will be crucial not only to its national security but also to the very essence of its young democracy. Now that the third-country-settlement solution has already started with some 30,000 people resettled so far, the number of peoples in the camps will decrease steadily and the humanitarian problem might be solved soon.
However, the real danger comes from a high degree of politicization within the camps. Banned opposition parties like the BNDP and BPP and anti-national militants have long used the plight of those people, who were evicted from or left Bhutan in the early 1990s. Reports indicate that some of these groups attack or intimidate people in the camps who are willing to resettle under the aegis of the UNDP plan. While in the future, a maturing Bhutanese democracy should be capable of accommodating currently banned opposition parties as long as they pledge to uphold the constitution and laws, Bhutan has to do everything possible to counter the insurgent movements.
The best way of doing so is to fully integrate the Nepalese minority in Bhutan into the political system and the civil society, in order to take away the grounds on which the minorities’ grievances are exploited by the insurgents and used against the state. The country’s first democratic elections in 2008 have already done so: turnout was equally high throughout the country and representatives from the Nepalese community have been elected to the National Assembly. The government is constantly trying to extend public services and to provide for public goods in all regions equally.
Bhutan should continue with the verification process to identify those ‘refugees’ who are eligible for repatriation. Unifying its entire people under some form of nationalism that leaves enough space for individual and communal freedoms is a constant challenge which is faced by all democracies and by Bhutan in particular. However, Bhutan does not have to look far to find an example. India, the world’s largest democracy has constantly struggled with, but at the same time has always been able to achieve ‘unity in diversity’ and it should use its friendly relations with Bhutan to take a more proactive role in promoting this and other essential democratic values in its neighbor state.
Research Scholar, University of Heidelberg and Former Intern, IPCS
INST I TUTE OF PEACE AND
CONF L ICT STUDIES