The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Sunday, November 12, 2006

The only political solution will be the repatriation -Hari Prasad Adhikari

Nepal-Bhutan Talks
Search For An Alternative
[ 2006-11-11 ]
By Hari Prasad Adhikari
Nepal's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Khadka Prasad Oli recently said that the forthcoming talks between Bhutan and Nepal to be held on November 21-22 would be decisive in finding a solution to the long-standing Bhutanese refugee crisis. And that in the event that concrete results in repatriating the refugees to their homeland are not forthcoming, then alternatives will be explored.

Political will
These statements coming from the highest source proves that this time around, Nepal is quite serious about resolving the issue and there is a political will to bring it into fruition. However, the possibility of the issue being at its concluding phase might not be true in its truest sense. Moreover, the statement that there is a possibility of an alternative solution makes it quite necessary to understand what the alternative is that the Nepali government is looking into.

Before any solution to the present crises is envisaged, it must be made clear as to whose interest is the solution addressing. It must be borne in mind that whatever the present scenario, and the ongoing stalemate over any concrete solutions, the Bhutanese refugee crises is an outcome of a political issue. The only permanent solution to the Bhutanese refugee problem is the establishment of democracy and human rights in Bhutan. Any democratic changes we are trying to achieve must sincerely protect the rights and privileges of all the groups concerned. Otherwise, the search for a concrete solution only means a shot in the dark.

It is true that Bhutan and Nepal are the twin sons of the Himalayan region. There is cultural and religious affinity between the Hindu and Buddhist brethren of these two countries. There is an innate need for the establishment of intimate and cordial relationship between the two nations. But in the desire to maintain friendship, there is that distinct possibility of the Nepalese Government being a part of the decision-making body that would decide the fate of more than 150,000 displaced refugees now and only God knows how many more in the future who would be subjected to a similar fate by the Bhutanese Government. With the desire of the Bhutanese Government to do whatever it takes to protect its vested interests, it is possible that the Bhutanese Government may create a no man's land between two major nations, should the need arise to protect its vested interests.

It is not only cultural affinity but in the changing world scenario, Bhutan and Nepal are going to play a pivotal role. We should all be very aware that today the economic interest of a nation is potentially the most important interest a government tries to protect. All statistics project India and China to play a major role in the economic affairs of the world. They are both achieving tremendous economic growth. The changing world order has made it necessary for these nations to come closer to protect their economic interests.

Now to satisfy the growing needs of their expanding economies, both of these nations need energy. It is well known that one of the major sources of energy to run the economic empires of these gigantic nations will be hydroelectricity, which is one of the major economic resources of both Nepal and Bhutan.

The resources of a nation are the collective assets of the nation, and every decision taken should address the benefits of the citizens of the nation and not a particular group. Unfortunately, in Bhutan, no one has the right to even constructively suggest alternatives to any issues either related to the present context or to the future, such as the use of the natural resources, the right to sell and purchase, land demarcation and the restriction of land ownership and negotiation on treaties between two or more countries. As a result, almost all Bhutanese of diverse ethnic groups have been affected by these monolithic Government policies.

Each and every citizen in Bhutan wants reforms. In such a situation where the people of Bhutan have joined forces with the democratic forces and have been struggling for reforms, the Nepali Government with its long struggle for almost 70 years for freedom should play a pivotal role in seeing that the democratic aspirations of the people are preserved and respected. The only political solution to the present refugee crisis will be the repatriation of the Bhutanese refugees to their motherland.

There have been numerous instances where the Government of Bhutan in order to protect its authority and monopoly has resorted to atrocities. History is replete with examples where those who have raised their voices against the Government have had to lose their lives by being thrown into a river or being forced into exile to become refugees. When it has not spared its relatives, or for that matter their religious leaders or nation heads, then we can expect little from it in protecting the interests of the common citizens.

When it comes to personal interest, there is no scope for anything else. In such instances, the Government does not recognize who is a Ngalong or a Sarchhop or a Lhotshampa. Therefore, even if we are looking at an alternative solution to the present refugee crisis, we should understand that the only lasting solution to the present crises is a political one, and it must necessarily mean the return of genuine Bhutanese to their homeland.

Political changes
It has to be understood that a nation cannot march confidently on the path of progress as long as national decisions are taken from the perspective of a segmented group. At present the Bhutanese Government, being a victim of insecurity arising out of the tremendous changes taking place all around, is not in a position to take clear-headed decisions. On one hand, it fears political changes while, on the other, it is not willing to relinquish its authority over the throne.

(Adhikari is former National Assembly member)

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