Bhutan has long played the reluctant actor in the battle against northeastern insurgents who have set up base on its soil. It is not difficult to see why Thimpu thought that discretion was truly the better part of valour in this matter. Its approach to the problem was never like that of some regimes in Dhaka and Yangon which used such militant bases in their territories for diplomatic offensives against India. Friendly relations between the tiny Himalayan kingdom and India never left any scope for such manoeuvrings on Thimpu’s part. New Delhi too has been consistent in keeping its commitment to protect Bhutan’s territorial and other interests. The most notable example of this was India’s stand vis-à-vis the pro-democracy movement in southern Bhutan in the late Eighties. India foiled not only the agitators’ plan to undertake “long marches” from their camps in Nepal across north Bengal to Bhutan, but also their attempts to set up bases on Indian territory. If Bhutan has not been able to dismantle the militants’ camps in that country, it is primarily because of logistical problems. The camps are located deep inside the jungles in south Bhutan on the country’s border with India, where Thimpu’s writ does not always run. Fears of retaliatory violence by these militant groups have also tied the Bhutanese hands.
Some recent developments, however, suggest that firm and decisive action can no longer be deferred. India’s concern over the militant camps worsened with reports of the Bhutanese king visiting some of them. The gravity of the situation necessitated a visit to Thimpu by India’s national security advisor, Mr Brajesh Mishra, who is believed to have once again urged the king to ensure the dismantling of the rebels’ camps. That the king has now appealed to the rebels to wind up the camps by June is one more proof of Bhutan’s good intentions. This is not the first time that the king has made such an appeal. There is a growing realization in Thimpu that the rebels, who have been fighting India on their secessionist agenda, also pose a threat to Bhutan’s security and stability. But India has to take care of Bhutan’s concerns in the event of an offensive against the militants. The two countries together have to decide how to deal with any retaliatory strikes by the rebels inside Bhutan. Also, New Delhi has to assure Thimpu that the Bhutanese travelling through India would not be harmed in retaliation for action against the rebels. Whatever the challenges, the dismantling of the camps is a crucial security need for both countries.