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New Bhutanese King to Update Treaty With India

The new leader of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is making his first visit to neighbor India since assuming the throne. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi the monarch is expected to sign a revised treaty that will give his nation more control over its foreign affairs and defense.

Bhutan's king, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, arrives here Wednesday for a six-day official visit.

On the top of the agenda is a revision of the 57-year-old India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty, which gives New Delhi control of its small neighbor's foreign policy. Among other things, the revision will allow the Buddhist kingdom to import non-lethal military equipment from countries other than India.

The treaty dates from a time when Bhutan was almost entirely dependent on India.

The director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Dipankar Banerjee, sees little practical change occurring after the revision because India has avoided dictating foreign policy to Bhutan.

"Therefore Bhutan pursued its own national interests as it perceived. It carried out a dialogue with China resolving its outstanding issues with that country on the border, [and] did not establish diplomatic relations, [or] opening up trade routes, et cetera, considering India's sensitivities on those issues," he said.

But he predicts that as India's ties with China mature, Bhutan will be able to establish closer relations with its giant neighbor to the north.

The treaty revision was discussed in detail during a visit last year by then-king Jigme Singye Wangchuk. In December he handed over control of the kingdom to his 27-year-old son.

Bhutan, which just decades ago had virtually no infrastructure or contact with the outside world, is preparing its first constitution to pave the way for national elections next year. The monarchy plans to transform Bhutan into a British-style parliamentary democracy. 

Bhutan remains important to India as the mountainous land-locked kingdom provides hydropower to its huge and booming neighbor, which faces serious electricity shortages.

 Banerjee, at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, says the economic relationship is likely to remain significant for decades.

"This generation of hydropower and the supply of that to India is a relationship that will last for 50 years, if not more," he added.

Nearly half of Bhutan's revenue is estimated to come from energy sales to India.

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