Bhutan: the Himalayan Buddhist kingdom

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Chicago Library]On: 19 November 2014, At: 09:07Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street,London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Bhutan: the HimalayanBuddhist kingdomHarald NestroyPublished online: 02 Feb 2007.

    To cite this article: Harald Nestroy (2004) Bhutan: the Himalayan Buddhistkingdom, Asian Affairs, 35:3, 338-352, DOI: 10.1080/0306837042000303920

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  • Asian Affairs, vol. XXXV, no. III, November 2004

    BHUTAN: THE HIMALAYAN BUDDHISTKINGDOM

    HARALD NESTROY

    Harald Nestroy has had a long and distinguished career in the German ForeignOffice, including postings as Ambassador to the Peoples Republic of Congo,Malaysia, Namibia and the Republic of Costa Rica. His first visit to Bhutan wasin 1987, which was followed by 11 further visits, the latest being in December2003. In 1992 Mr Nestroy founded the Humanitarian German Bhutan HospitalFoundation for the construction of the Punkha Hospital, which was opened in1996. As Executive Chairman of the Pro Bhutan Association, he has beeninvolved with further development of the hospital, building new facilities and aTraining Centre for medical staff, as well as establishing schools with hostels forblind and hearing-impaired children.

    Name and geography

    The origin and meaning of the modern name of this unique Buddhist Kingdomin the Himalayas Bhutan is cloudy, as many other things Bhutanese. Thename Bhutan was used by early British travellers in the 18th century and wastransmitted into the official name of today. Does it derive from the name ofthe mountain herders, bhotias, who graze their yaks, sheep and goats from thewest to the east of the Himalayas? Does it mean the end of Tibet, fromBhot-anta, Bhot being an ancient name for Tibet, and anta, meaning the end?Nobody is really sure. From as early as the 13th century, the Bhutanesethemselves have called their country Druk-Yul or Land of the ThunderDragon, their King the Druk-Gyalpo, the Dragon King, themselves Druk-pa,People of the Dragon. Another name, Country of Medical Herbs, is said tohave been given by the Tibetans, who traded to obtain medical plants fromBhutan with its monsoon-irrigated pastures and forests.

    Bhutan is a small landlocked country of only 46,500 km2, a little largerthan Switzerland, with roughly 700,000 inhabitants. This official numberrefers only to the population of Bhutanese origin excluding a high number ofimmigrants. The original Bhutanese comprise 11 ethnic groups of greatlyvarying size and with their own different languages. One such group has onlyaround 500 people.

    Dzongkha, the idiom of the largest group, the Druk-pa, is the officiallanguage. It is closely related to Tibetan and written in Ucan, the classicalTibetan script. Nepali, the idiom of the largest group of immigrants, iscommonly used as lingua franca, even among original Bhutanese who do notspeak adequate Dzongkha. English is spoken by everybody who has enjoyeda formal education.

    ISSN 0306-8374 print/ISSN 1477-1500 online/04/030338-15 2004 The Royal Society for Asian Affairshttp://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/0306837042000303920

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  • BHUTAN: THE HIMALAYAN BUDDHIST KINGDOM 339

    The Kingdom borders the Indian states of Sikkim, West Bengal, Assamand Arunachal Pradesh, and Chinese Tibet. Lying on the southern face of theHimalayas, the altitude of the Kingdom ranges between almost sea level in thesouth and the many awe-inspiring ice peaks on the Tibetan border, the KulaKangri being the highest at 7554 m.

    Bhutan is one of the few Asian countries which was never a colony of aWestern or any other power. The location of the David Bhutan, sandwichedbetween the two Goliaths India and China, has shaped the history of this tinycountry. This vulnerable situation has, to a great extent, ensured the indepen-dence of Bhutan up to the present day.

    Figure 1 Map of Bhutan

    Pre-modern history

    The early history of Bhutan is not based on archaeological or documentaryevidence, but deeply connected with Buddhist religion and mythology. As inother ancient cultures, historical facts are interwoven with fables and legends.In the eyes of the Bhutanese, demons and saints were often more importantthan worldly rulers and Buddhist lamas. Since the 16th17th centuries, thecountrys history has been documented more fully, although many recordswhich were preserved for hundreds of years in the monastery-castles calleddzongs, built mainly of wood, were destroyed in fires in the 19th and 20thcenturies. Much of the early history is based on reports of British explorerswho visited the country in the 18th to 20th centuries, on legend and folkloreand on the few written records surviving in dzongs and temples.

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  • BHUTAN: THE HIMALAYAN BUDDHIST KINGDOM340

    One of the most important events in Bhutanese history was the arrival ofthe holy Tibetan Lama Padmasambhava (the Lotus Born), also named GuruRimpoche, in the 8th century. He was the founder of the Ningma-pa monasticorder. Through his influence Tantric Mahayana Buddhism became popular replacing the ancient Bon religion, which was the main religion throughout theHimalayas before the advent of Buddhism. In the 13th century, PhajoDruk-Gom Shigpo, a lama from Ralung monastery in Tibet, introduced theDruk-pa Kagyu school into Bhutan. Its founder, Yeshey Dorji, had chosendruk (dragon) to symbolize his new monastic order when he saw these mysticanimals in the sky while he was consecrating an important monastery. SoonDruk-pa Kagyu became the predominant faith in Bhutan and Druk wasadopted as auspicious into the names of the country, the people, the language,the King and, today, of the Bhutanese Airline, Druk Air.

    Until the 16th17th centuries, Bhutan was a disparate conglomerate ofnumerous small principalities, almost one in each major valley of thismountainous land. Their chieftains spent much of their energy and resourceswarring among themselves and with Tibetan warlords. Numerous monasterieswere competing, less for spiritual, more for worldly dominance over thepeasantry and for control over revenue from taxation.

    Things changed drastically in 1616 with the arrival of another lama fromRalung monastery in Tibet, Ngawang Namgyal (15941651). He was adescendant of the founder of Ralung and recognized as the re-incarnation ofPema Karpo, the holy ruler-abbot of Ralung. But Ngawangs position as thenew abbot of Ralung was challenged by a ruler-abbot from the new order ofthe Yellow Hats, the Gelug-pa, with the Dalai Lama at its head. ManyDruk-pa lamas fled when they were attacked by these rivals. Ngawang wasjust 23 years old when the powerful deity Mahakala, or Yeshey Goenpo,appeared to him in the form of a raven and sent him to Bhutan with a missionto teach Buddhism there. Thus, the raven became a sacred symbol incorpor-ated in the crown of the rulers of Bhutan, the Raven Crown.

    While teaching in every dzong and village in western Bhutan, Ngawanggathered spiritual and political power. Once he had secured the support ofmost of the important aristocratic families, Ngawang started building thepower structure of the country. With great energy he proceeded to constructa chain of large dzongs in the main valleys of western Bhutan as centres ofreligious and civil authority.

    However, he had rivals. One of them called upon the King of Tsang inTibet with his troops to help oust the interloper. In 1639 Ngawang crushed thechallenger and his Tibetan allies. After this great victory he assumed theimpressive title of Shabdrung, meaning Precious Jewel at whose feet oneprostrates, and started the lineage of Shabdrungs in Bhutan. As supremereligious and temporal ruler of Bhutan, he introduced a dual theocratic systemof government: a Head Abbot, the Je Kempo, administered the religiousinstitutions; a high officer with the title Druk Desi or, as the Britishtravellers called him, Deb Raja was vested with the civil authority. Hedivided the country into administrative regions headed by a Penlop (Prince-

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  • BHUTAN: THE HIMALAYAN BUDDHIST KINGDOM 341

    Governor), while Dzongpons administered at the local level. For the first time,a comprehensive system of laws was codified.

    Invasions by TibetanMongolian troops in 1644 and 1647 were repulsedsuccessfully and served to unite the Bhutanese further. When the Shabdrungdied in 1651, the major part of Bhutan was united under central authority; fiveyears later, Eastern Bhutan was also brought under full control of the centralGovernment.

    In an intricate power game, the Shabdrungs death was kept a state secretfor more than 50 years, because the temporal and religious rulers could notagree on a successor. The moment the death of the Shabdrung was madepublic in 1705, civil wars broke out, spurred by rival claims to the authorityof Shabdrung. The unity of the country was eroded as the regional princes, thePenlops, took power into their own hands, warring against each other. Thischaotic situation prevailed until the early years of the 20th century.

    Modern history

    The decline of Moghul India at the end of the 18th century allowed Bhutanto gain almost total control of the Indian principality of Cooch Behar, itsneighbour to the south. Bhutan had annexed and fortified the 11 duars orgateways which gave access to the adjacent agricultural land at the border andthe plains of Bengal beyond. The clash with the British East India Companywas inevitable. The pretender to the throne of Cooch Behar, KhagendaNarayan, sought British help to oust the Bhutanese. A small British force wasdispatched to the area in December 1772 and, despite heavy losses, uprootedthe Bhutanese contingent from Cooch and captured two Bhutanese forts in thefoothills (JanuaryApril, 1773). Alarmed by this unexpected defeat, the DebRaja of Bhutan, Tshenlop Kunga Rinchen, called upon the Panchen Lama ofTibet to intercede with the Governor, General Warren Hastings. The resultwas a peace treaty concluded between India and Bhutan on April 25, 1774 inCalcutta. More significantly, Hastings from now on became more intent onextending British influence beyond Bhutan to Tibet and to the fabled land ofChina, which had remained beyond Western reach.

    Hastings lost little time in sending the first British mission to Tibet. InMay 1774 George Bogle, officer in the Bengal Civil Service, spent manyweeks in Thimphu negotiating the passage to Tibet.1 His official report,mentioning as a footnote tea in Bhutan as universal beverage, encouragedthe establishment of tea plantations in northern India. The following missionsto Bhutan were led by Alexander Hamilton (1776 and 1777) and CaptainSamuel Turner (1783), all aimed at improving trade between Bengal andBhutan as well as Tibet, at the same time dealing with border disputes. Then,for a good 50 years, BritishBhutanese contacts ceased.

    In the mean time, the Bhutanese had turned their attention to Assam,which bordered the eastern half of Bhutan. While the Kingdom of Ahom inAssam was disintegrating, Bhutan had annexed the seven duars to the plains

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  • BHUTAN: THE HIMALAYAN BUDDHIST KINGDOM342

    of the Brahmaputra. Meanwhile, the British, as a result of the Burmese war of18251826, gained control of Assam. The duars with their fertile land beyondwere of great interest to the British, especially to the young tea plantingindustry. After a number of battles in the years up to 1841 the British annexedall the Assam duars, but eventually agreed to pay to Bhutan an annualcompensation of 10,000 Rupees for its losses.

    Despite this agreement, there were intermittent border clashes over thefollowing 20 years, culminating in the Second Anglo-Bhutanese War. FromNovember 1864 British forces swept through the Bhutanese strongholds in theBengal duars, which they controlled by March 1865. In the Treaty of Sinchulaof 11 November, 1865, Bhutan gave up any claim to the 18 duars to Bengaland Assam against an annual compensation of 50,000 Rupees. The treatystipulated peace and friendship between the signatories and, most importantfor Britain, open and duty-free trade between the two sides.

    The two decades following this treaty saw progressive weakening of thecentral authorities in Bhutan and the increase of internecine conflicts betweenthe regional princely rulers, the Penlops. The Shabdrung, in theory thesupreme power, proved to be weak institutionally. As the successors werechosen by re-incarnation, usually as boys of two to four years, one of thePenlops ruled as regent until the new Shabdrung came of age. The abuse ofpower by the regents led to growing instability. The struggle for power centredon the two rival factions headed by the Penlops of Paro and Trongsa who, bythe beginning of the 20th century, emerged as the strongest political figures.

    This instability in Bhutan was alarming the Anglo-Indian Government.With the expansion of the British Empire on the Subcontinent, one of the mostimportant questions in this area was: would Bhutan seek an accommodationwith the new powerful southern neighbour or maintain the traditional ties withTibet, which was by now largely influenced by China. For some time Bhutanwas able to keep a balance, but, in 1903, the matter came to a head. TheViceroy of India, Lord Curzon, became embroiled in the Great Game. In hisefforts to counteract the Russian expansion between the Black Sea and theCaucasus, into Turkmenistan and possibly into Tibet, he believed the latterhad to be brought under a certain degree of British control. So Curzondispatched a large-scale military expedition to Lhasa under Colonel FrancisYounghusband.2

    While the Penlop of Paro was favouring traditional ties with Tibet againstBritish India, the Penlop of Tongsa, Ugyen Wangchuk, decided to offer hisservices as mediator and interpreter between Younghusband and the DalaiLama. He accompanied the expedition to Lhasa. Despite two bloody encoun-ters between the victorious British corps and the Tibetan army, the subtlemediation of Ugyen Wangchuk with the Regent and the Tsongdu, theassembly of the monks (the Dalai Lama had fled) was successful: a newBritishTibetan treaty, confirming and enlarging the previous one, in particularfavouring trade between Anglo-India and Tibet, was signed in 1904. Throughthis apparent success, and the subsequent support from the British side, theposition of the Penlop of Tongsa within Bhutan was strengthened. John

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  • BHUTAN: THE HIMALAYAN BUDDHIST KINGDOM 343

    Claude White of the Political Service of the Viceroy, an extraordinarily gifteddiplomat who had also been on the Lhasa Expedition, was sent to Bhutan. Hewas instrumental in getting the Penlops and abbots to agree to convert Bhutaninto a hereditary Kingdom. On December 17, 1907, Ugyen Wangchuk, thePenlop of Tongsa, was elected the first Druk Gyalpo, the Dragon King ofBhutan. Under his strong leadership, the country at last enjoyed unpre-cedented stability and the beginning of a fruitful relationship with Anglo-In-dia.

    As the Chinese efforts to gain influence in Bhutan and their claims torights over this Kingdom grew, the Viceroy decided to develop a blockingpolicy against this threat to British interests. Political Officer C. A. Bell3 wassent from his office in Sikkim to Punakha (the King had not agreed to havehim reside in Bhutan), to negotiate a new treaty with the Druk Gyalpo. Thistreaty was signed on the 8 January, 1910. It stipulated de facto the full controlof Bhutans external relations by the Government of India, without, however,interfering in domestic affairs; and it doubled the annual compensation to bepaid to Bhutan to 100,000 Rupees.

    Bell was satisfied and wrote: We have removed the Chinese threat for 220miles off a very vulnerable frontier. Nevertheless, in 1911, Peking reassertedofficially that Bhutan (as Nepal) was a vassal state of China! It based thisclaim on former contacts between Bhutan and the Amban (the Chinese Agent)in Lhasa: gifts sent with Bhutanese visitors to Lhasa were interpreted as tributepayments of a vassal state, the acceptance of the Chinese Imperial seal sent toPunakha as acceptance of Chinese dominance. Peking now even sent anofficial letter to Ugyen Wangckuk, addressing him only as Penlop of Tongsabut ignoring his new position as King Druk Gyalpo, and informed him of theirintention to station Chinese troops in the Kingdom.

    This was the first opportunity for the King to refer any such matter to Bellas Political Officer, who advised the King not to respond at all. The Chinesethreat became for the time being immaterial, as in 1912 the Chinese wereexpelled from Tibet after a successful uprising.

    On the other hand, in a secret memorandum of the Government of India,it was bluntly stated to the Secretary of State in London that Bhutan is anative state of India under the suzerainty of H.M.G.!

    Relations between the British Crown and Bhutan continued to remainfriendly and fruitful also under the second King, Jigme Wangchuk (since1926) until the Independence of India in 1947. As a result of Bhutanesediplomatic skill, the new Government of India recognized Bhutan as anindependent state, and the Indo-Bhutanese Treaty, adopting almost unchangedthe text of the Treaty of 1910 with the Anglo-Indian Government, was signedin 1949. India undertook not to interfere in the internal affairs of the Kingdom;Bhutan agreed to be guided by New Delhi in its external affairs. This movecontributed greatly to the preservation of Bhutans independence, limited as itmay be, up to today.

    A revolt against the Chinese in eastern Tibet in 1958 sent political shockwaves across the Himalayas. The rebels established themselves near the

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  • BHUTAN: THE HIMALAYAN BUDDHIST KINGDOM344

    Bhutanese border. Nehru, fearing that this might lead to a Chinese invasion ofBhutan, demonstrated the special relationship between India and Bhutan, andvisited the Kingdom. Following this visit, the Indian Government embarkedon a programme of extensive economic assistance to Bhutan, based onstrategic considerations. This included the construction of militarily importantroads. During the nationwide rebellion in Tibet in the following years and theborder clashes between India and China, Chinese military forces several timespenetrated into Bhutan, while in Peking (Beijing) Chinese claims to suzeraintyover Bhutan resurfaced. This led to a strong Bhutanese alignment with Indiaright until today, starting with the training of the Royal Bhutanese Army bya permanent training mission of the Indian army, and the deployment of Indiantroops and military advisors to Bhutan.

    Domestic development

    The paramount tasks of the first two Bhutanese Kings were to consolidate theunification of the country and to establish a strong central authority. Theywere successful. With the accession to the throne of the third Druk Gyalpo,Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, in March 1952, a new era began in the history ofBhutan. The way was open to expand the structure of the state administrationand modernize the society itself.

    Among the first initiatives of the third King were the abolishment ofserfdom and the beginning of important land reform measures in 1956. In1968 he created the Council of Ministers, thereafter the High Court. Theexisting laws were codified. He established the Tshogdu, the National As-sembly, as precursor of a parliament with rudimentary legislative functions.Today it has 154 members, composed of 38 high civil servants, including tencabinet ministers, ten representatives of the monastic body, six members of theRoyal Advisory Committee and 100 peoples representatives elected indirectly they are appointed by the village heads and other local dignitaries.

    Bhutan today is divided into 20 administrative districts (the Dzongkhags)under the direction of a Governor or Dzongda who reports to the HomeMinister. Only recently have the Dzongdas been drastically reduced in theirpower. Also, on the initiative of the present King, the decentralization andempowerment of the regional and the local institutions at village level arebeing strongly pursued. They take part actively in the preparation andexecution of the Five Years Plans for the entire range of Government work.

    Although the Tshogdu is not yet a parliament in the Western sense as itis not voted in through general elections and as there are, as yet, no politicalparties which would compete for the votes today this National Assembly hasbecome quite a strong institution. On the initiative of the fourth King, JigmeSingye Wangchuck (on the throne since 1972), the power to appoint Ministersand, to the horror of many traditionally-minded Bhutanese, to force the Kingto abdicate in favour of his heir was transferred to the Tshogdu in 1998. TheKing gave up his de facto role as Chief of the Government; the Council of

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  • BHUTAN: THE HIMALAYAN BUDDHIST KINGDOM 345

    Ministers was strengthened significantly; the post of Prime Minister(Chairman of the Council of Ministers) was established; every year anotherMinister is elected in rotation by the Tshogdu. The Druk Gyalpo has graduallyreduced his formerly omnipotent role to that of Head of State similar to thatof H. M. the Queen of England. The King has ordered the formulation of amodern written constitution, which is now fairly well advanced.

    A number of Bhutanese are worried that the speed with which the King ispressing for these reforms is far too fast for a people who were living inmedieval conditions a mere 40 years ago. Bhutan is a country which is visiblymarked by both Buddhist traditions and material developments. The King ispersonally promoting the preservation of Bhutanese traditions in all aspects oflife. But, of course, he is aware that there is no alternative to modernizationfor his country. Thus, in 1999, national TV was introduced with three hoursdaily transmission, complementing the one radio station with its few hoursdaily broadcast and the weekly newspaper, all three being Government run.The official media is still wary of foreign influence, but two years ago therewas a breakthrough with access to international satellite TV. The Internet hasalso become accessible to all.

    Economy

    With a BSP per capita of just over $US700, Bhutan is considered one of thepoorest countries in the world. The Human Development Index 2000 ranksBhutan 124 out of 180 countries. But poverty is relative and Bhutan must becompared with neighbouring India in this respect. The original Bhutanese stillbelong to farming families, none of whom are starving. Statistics do not revealthe whole picture, as many goods and services produced and exchanged in therural areas are not reflected in the monetary system. It is true, however, thatagriculture and animal husbandry, which provide the livelihood of most ofrural Bhutan, are mainly at a subsistence level and cannot yet produce asurplus for cash income.

    Forestry is important in a country where more than 60 percent of theterrain is covered by forests. It is controlled strictly by the Government as partof its environmental policy. Export of timber has been stopped since 1999 inthe face of unlimited Indian demand and to promote the Bhutanese timberindustry.

    Bhutans hydropower potential is the most important single factor in theeconomy of the country. It is estimated to be over 30,000 MW, but by the endof 2001 only approximately 1.4 percent of that potential had been utilized. Itis the largest source of revenue for the Government, comprising 45 percent ofthe total national revenue. More than 90 percent of the power produced isexported to India. Annual domestic consumption of power in Bhutan has beengrowing at an average rate of about 10 percent over the past five years.Domestic demand for electricity is now over 90 MW per annum; and morethan 30 percent of Bhutanese households now have access to electricity. By

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    2005, when the Tala and Basochu Projects are in operation, Bhutan will havea hydropower capacity of 1500 MW, which still means that only five percentof its total hydropower potential will have been developed. This industry willthen contribute about 60 percent of the total annual revenue.

    For the year 2002, the first year of the Ninth Five-Year Plan, the real GrossDomestic Product (GDP) is estimated to have grown by 7.7 percent comparedwith 6.6 percent in 2001. Bhutan continues to experience a strong overalleconomic performance, with a fall in inflation to 1.8 percent, the lowest levelin the last 20 years.

    The contribution to GDP of the agricultural sector, comprising farming,livestock production, forestry and logging, is estimated to have fallen back toabout 34 percent in 2002, after almost 36 percent in 2000. About 75 percentof the total labour force is involved in agricultural production. The manufac-turing, mining and electricity sector contributed 19.3 percent of GDP in 2002,the electricity sector alone about 9.7 percent, a drop from 12 percent in 2001.

    The construction sector is estimated to account for 17 percent of GDP in2002, rising from 15 percent in 2001. The performance of this sector reflectslargely the work connected with the hydroelectric power projects of Tala,Kurichhu and Basochu.

    Tourism is the most important sector of the revenue in hard currency. Itearned a net $US8.4 million in 2002 ($US4.8 million in 2001), reflecting anincrease in the number of tourists to 6100 in 2002 (5500 in 2001), but did notrecover the peak of 7600 tourists in 2000.

    During the period of the Ninth Five-Year Plan, which began in July 2002,the economy is projected to grow at an annual rate of 8.2 percent, exceedinggrowth during the last period. This projection is based on the potential directand indirect contribution of the hydroelectric power projects to other sectors,namely manufacturing, construction, transport and trade.

    In its foreign trade relations, Bhutan depends predominantly on India. 88percent of imports come from India, five percent from Japan, but only onepercent each from the UK, USA and Germany. 97 percent of Bhutanssexports go to India, of which a good 60 percent are covered by electricity.Other exports, mainly agricultural, go to Bangladesh and Thailand.

    The Bhutanese currency, Ngultrum, is linked 1:1 to the Indian Rupee.Therefore, Bhutan has very little scope for an independent foreign currencypolicy. The government pursues a prudent fiscal policy by limiting the annualdeficit to a maximum of 3.5 percent.

    Education and health

    Education has been one of the highest priorities of the Bhutanese Governmentsince the 1960s. Until then, education was limited to the monasteries. Stateprimary schools were built rapidly and now cover the whole country; twocolleges and a teacher training institute followed. The Royal Bhutan Univer-sity was established in June 2003. The education system is Government-run

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  • BHUTAN: THE HIMALAYAN BUDDHIST KINGDOM 347

    and free for all. Monastic schools have extended their curricula to meet socialneeds. On the initiative of the present King, all pupils are taught both basicknowledge and one of the handicrafts. The language of instruction is English,while Dzongkha is obligatory for all pupils. Besides teaching modern subjects,great emphasis is laid upon the conservation of the Bhutanese culture andtradition literature, arts, architecture, language and customs.

    In the last decade enormous progress has been made to extend andimprove public medical services, which are free for all. Existing hospitalswere enlarged and new hospitals built. The Basic Health Units medicalstations in the rural areas, mostly inaccessible to motor traffic wereimproved and enlarged. The number of medical doctors, paramedics andhealth-workers was increased considerably. The result is an impressiveimprovement in the health and life expectancy of the population.

    Foreign policy since 1960

    With developments in Tibet since 1959, the third King, Jigme DorjiWangchuk, recognised that the time when Bhutan could keep its centuries-old,self-imposed isolation was over. He started a cautious policy of opening up theKingdom to the outside world. This policy was continued by the fourth King,Jigme Singye Wangchuck, when he succeeded his father in 1972.4

    In establishing bilateral diplomatic relations, Bhutan proceeded cautiouslyin order not to be drawn into international disputes and not to disturb theexcellent relations with India, with whom it had established formal diplomaticrelations in 1971 after being admitted to the UN. Bhutan decided not to haveformal diplomatic relations with the permanent members of the SecurityCouncil. However, it established full diplomatic relations with all the membersof South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), includingPakistan, as well as with some Asian and smaller European countries.5

    Although it does not maintain formal diplomatic relations with China,since 1984 talks have been held concerning the demarcation of theChinese(Tibetan)Bhutanese border. Officially, there are no areas disputedby either side. Bhutanese diplomacy has successfully avoided any friction withChina without giving up any rights.

    The ethnic Nepali problem

    Since 1989 relations with Nepal and, to some extent with the internationalcommunity, have been burdened with the problem of Bhutanese refugees ofethnic Nepali background and of illegal Nepali immigrants.

    A census conducted in 1988 revealed that the Nepali part of the populationin Bhutan, living mostly in southern Bhutan, had grown out of proportion,owing to illegal immigration mainly from the border areas of India (Assam,west Bengal, Sikkim) and Nepal. The population of original Bhutanese

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    background were shocked. They saw the imminent danger of becoming anethnic minority in their own country and losing their national and culturalidentity. Over-reaction, some drastic and indiscriminate measures, includingviolations of human rights committed by a few overzealous officials, led to anexodus of many illegal Nepalis and a considerable number of genuineNepali-Bhutanese until 1993.

    The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) eventuallyset up seven refugee camps in south-eastern Nepal, now containing between90,000 and 100,000 refugees. Ten percent of these were actually born in thecamps. The background to this problem is the influx of Nepalese migrants intoBhutan which happened in two major phases.

    At the beginning of the 20th century, the Government had employedNepalis from abroad as contract labour to extract timber from the densetropical forests in Bhutans southern foothills. Officially, they were prohibitedto establish permanent residence in Bhutan. As control was weak, however,they stayed on illegally as tenant farmers in the areas where the forests werecleared. By the early 1950s they had gradually settled in the southern districtsand encouraged relatives and friends from abroad to join them.

    Subsequently, the Bhutanese Government made efforts to integrate theeligible ethnic Nepalis living in the country. The Bhutan Citizenship Act of1958 aimed to assimilate those who had lived in Bhutan legally for at least tenyears, while refusing citizenship to foreigners temporarily working inthe Kingdom. Many Nepalis were recognized as citizens and some evenbecame officials; the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese were given representation inthe National Assembly; Nepali was introduced as the second official languageand taught in the primary schools in southern Bhutan where most of themlived.

    The second major influx of ethnic Nepali migrants into Bhutan began after1961, when Bhutan started to modernize its economy, creating new job andbusiness opportunities. This attracted massive illegal immigration through thelong and porous border in the south. Many of the new immigrants were againclosely related, by family ties or caste, to Bhutanese of Nepali origin. In theearly 1980s, helped by poor administration in the south and by officials ofethnic Nepali background, many of these illegal immigrants obtainedBhutanese citizenship cards through fraudulent means. In this way, many ofthem acquired land and property.

    Tensions started when the Government became aware of the size of thisproblem and then felt compelled to act to preserve the national identity whichit saw threatened. The principals of Dringlam Namzha traditional valuesand etiquette were introduced. Civil servants at work, citizens at all publicfunctions and visiting public offices, children at school all had to wear thetraditional national dress: the Kho for men, the Khira for women. The Nepalilanguage was barred from being taught in primary schools.

    Bhutanese of Nepali ethnic background responded with political action.Their aim was to end the Bhutanese citizenship laws, to turn the demographicbalance in their favour and, eventually, to dominate the political life of the

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  • BHUTAN: THE HIMALAYAN BUDDHIST KINGDOM 349

    country. This agitation was supported from abroad, including by the laterPrime Minister of Nepal. From 1988 on, underground subversive activities andterrorist acts gave another new dimension to the problem.

    When violence failed to cow the Government, the dissidents resorted toenticing all ethnic Nepali, whether bona fide Bhutanese citizens or illegalimmigrants, to leave Bhutan. These people were promised safe haven in theUNHCR refugee camps in Nepal and a victorious return to Bhutan. Those whorefused to join the exodus were threatened or persecuted. The openly declaredaim of the dissidents was to create a Nepali-dominated Bhutan or even aGreater Nepal or Ghurkha State, comprising Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan.

    Seeing the negative effects, both domestically and internationally, Bhutanimmediately endeavoured to settle this problem directly with Nepal. In 1991,a bilateral commission at ministerial level was set up to find a solution. Upuntil now, after 15 meetings, in spite of substantial progress on minor details,no comprehensive and lasting solution has been found. Since the beginning ofthis crisis Bhutan has followed a policy of transparency: representatives ofAmnesty International, the ICRC and the UN Human Rights Commissionwere given unlimited access to investigate the situation in situ.

    Bhutan has good reason to doubt that all refugees living in the camps arelegal Nepali-Bhutanese with a right to return to Bhutan. How could it beotherwise explained that Nepal continues to refuse a thorough investigation ofthe refugees in the camps in order to establish their background? Bhutancontinues to pledge that it will take back any refugees found to have fulfilledthe prerequisites of the Bhutanese Citizenship Acts before leaving Bhutan.

    The two sides agreed in 2003 that the repatriation process for the firstgroup of those eligible and wishing to return to Bhutan would start onFebruary 16, 2004. However, in late December 2003 the Bhutanese field teamverifying refugees in Khudunabari, the first Nepalese camp to be cleared, wasattacked by refugees, resulting in many serious injuries. The Nepalese author-ities obviously had not taken any proper security measures. Thus, theBhutanese team was forced to leave Nepal. So those who wish to prevent asolution to this long and complex problem have again prevailed.

    Indian insurgent rebels

    Another problem in Bhutanese external relations was, up to December 2003,the existence of between 18 and 20 camps of three different groups ofAssamese rebels in the southern Bhutanese jungles, totalling approximately3000 people. Two Bodo factions were fighting for a Bodo homeland, theULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) for an independent Assam. Theyused these hideouts in Bhutan to launch their attacks against their targets inAssam. The Indian Army was pursuing them on India territory, but was unableto prevent them from escaping into the Bhutanese jungles. The BhutaneseGovernment made every effort to find a peaceful solution through negotiationswith the rebels, but to no avail. In 2003 the pressure from New Delhi to either

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  • BHUTAN: THE HIMALAYAN BUDDHIST KINGDOM350

    oust the rebels themselves or to agree that the Indian army enter Bhutan for thatpurpose eventually forced Bhutan to act. Under the personal command of H. M.King Jigme Singye, the Bhutanese army with about 5000 men attacked therebels in December 2003 and, with casualties on both sides, destroyed all theirjungle camps and drove them out of Bhutanese territory. Was this the end of thematter or will the Indian rebels sneak back into the Bhutanese forests after sometime, re-establish their camps and take revenge?

    One can only wish Bhutan every success in its efforts to guard its culturalidentity, to meet its social challenges and to maintain its political independence.The impressive dedication of the present King and his Ministers to improve theliving conditions of the nation and to educate the Bhutanese youth, and theoutstanding skills of Bhutanese diplomacy over the past century bode well forthe future.

    NOTES

    1. See book review of Lamb (2004).2. See book review of Allen (2004).3. See Bell (1946) and articles by Rank (2003) and Shipman (2004).4. Bhutan joined the following organizations: 1962: in the Colombo Plan; 1969: the Universal Postal Union;

    1971: the United Nations Organization and the Group of 77; 1973: the Non-Aligned Movement; 1981:IMF and World Bank; 1982: the Asian Developing Bank; 1985: SAARC (South Asian Association forRegional Cooperation).

    5. SAARC: Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. Europe: Austria, Denmark, Finland,Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland. Asia: Japan, Singapore, South Korea. Hon. Consulates: inMacao, Hong Kong. Bhutanese diplomatic missions only in: New Delhi, Dhaka, Bangkok, Kuwait, UNONew York and Geneva.

    REFERENCES

    Allen, Charles (2004) Duel in the Snows: The True Story of the Younghusband Mission toLhasa, Asian Affairs, XXXV(II), p. 229.

    Bell, Sir Charles (1946) Portrait of a Dalai Lama, Collins, London.Lamb, Alastair (2004) Bhutan and Tibet: The Travels of George Bogle and Alexander Hamilton

    17741777, Asian Affairs, XXXV(I), p. 68.Rank. Michael (2003) Frank Ludlow and the English School in Tibet, 19231926 Asian Affairs,

    XXXIV(I), pp. 3345.Shipman, John (2004) From Undeserved Oblivion: A Young American in TibetWilliam

    Montgomery McGovern, Asian Affairs, XXXV(II), pp. 163171.

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  • BHUTAN: THE HIMALAYAN BUDDHIST KINGDOM 351

    Plate 1: HM the King with Harald and Angelika Nestroy

    Plate 2: Thimpu-Dzong, the residence of HM the King and His Holiness the Je Kempo

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  • BHUTAN: THE HIMALAYAN BUDDHIST KINGDOM352

    Plate 3: Himalayan peak on Tibetan Border Tserim Kang, 6789 metres

    Plate 4: Hospital built by Nestroys NGO opposite Punakha Dzong

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