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Bhutan waters economic ties

New Delhi, Sept. 17: Some say it is “exemplary”, others call it “submissive”. But few deny that Bhutan is India’s closest ally. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, though aware of the various perceptions, is not willing to take his country’s relationship with India for granted.

“Friendship should never be relied only on goodwill and generosity,” the Bhutanese king said.

He added: “I have always ensured that though we have very good and close ties, economic interest should be the binding force of our relationship.”

King Wangchuck, who arrived on Sunday for a state visit, has met a host of Indian leaders, including President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, and discussed a number of issues of bilateral importance and other developments in the region.

This morning, he spoke to a select group of journalists at Rashtrapati Bhavan where he has been invited to stay by the President as his guest.

He explained that since the 1970s, he has been trying to turn economic cooperation between the two countries into one of the main planks of the relationship. For this he has turned to the huge water reserve that Bhutan possesses.

“Water is to us what oil is to the Arabs,” King Wangchuck said, explaining his policy to integrate Bhutan’s economy with India’s. He said the two countries had set up joint hydro-electric power projects and plan to set up more in Bhutan to ensure the supply.

“Our largest export to India will be hydel power,” he said. The two sides will start working on a new power project the moment work on one is completed.

Militant flushout

Bhutan is not contemplating joint action with the Indian army to flush out militants running bases on its territory.

It is seeking a peaceful, negotiated settlement. But if Thimphu runs out of options it may have to use force. Even so, the operation will be conducted by the Royal Bhutanese Army alone.

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