One country’s outlaws can be a threat to its neighbour’s peace. It is not that Bhutan did not know the dangers posed by militants from the Northeast who had set up camps on its territory. But Thimphu did not seem to know for sure how to meet the challenge without further endangering its own security. The tiny Himalayan nation has occasionally sought to persuade the militants to wind up the camps on their own. Obviously, the soft approach has not worked with hardened, gun-wielding leaders of the United Liberation Front of Asom or the National Democratic Front of Bodoland. It speaks of Thimphu’s new resolve that it has finally decided to use force to drive the rebels out. The longer this offensive is delayed, the more complicated the situation will be for Bhutan. The Bhutanese army or the police may not be big forces, but they can count on logistical and other support from Indian authorities who have a greater stake in demolishing the rebels’ camps as well as their violent movements.
Although India and Bhutan are traditional allies with mutual commitments to each other’s security, New Delhi cannot afford to be seen as pushing or prompting Thimphu on the issue. India has rightly desisted from doing so despite the fact that the militancy is more its problem than Bhutan’s. But the issue of rebels’ hideouts has occasionally strained relations between the two countries. This is unfortunate for Bhutan because, unlike some other neighbours, it has wanted to use the rebels as leverage in its relations with India. There have been regimes in Bangladesh or Myanmar which aided and used insurgents from Tripura, Mizoram, Nagaland and Assam for proxy battles with India. But Bhutan has been a victim of the rebels’ battle against India. It was a flawed argument which said that Bhutan did not need to confront the rebels because they struck only at Indian targets. It was more a subterfuge for inaction. Bhutan has long paid a heavy price for delaying the action it is now contemplating. It must be wary of false promises and fake compromises that the militants might offer to avoid the imminent crackdown. The fight against terror will earn it peace at home and neighbourly goodwill.