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LAST APPEAL

No responsible government would like its territory to be used by rebels from another country. If Bhutan had not so far used force to dismantle training camps and shelters set up inside the country by militant groups from India’s Northeast, it was not because of any lack of sincerity on its part. By repeatedly appealing to the rebels to wind up the camps on their own, Thimphu had hoped for a peaceful solution to the problem. Since the militancies are aimed against India, Bhutan is understandably wary of committing its small army or other forces to the the task of driving the rebels out. If the country’s national assembly now sees no alternative to the use of force in case one “last appeal” to the militants fails, it must have been convinced that the inevitable can no longer be delayed. It is very unlikely that the three militant groups — the United Liberation Front of Asom, National Democratic Front of Bodoland and Kamtapur Liberation Organization — would honestly respond to Thimphu’s appeal even this time. What is more likely is that they will stick to their old deceptions and make promises only to break them later. It is time Thimphu called their bluff and weeded out the menace once and for all because, while they strike at Indian targets, the rebels pose a threat to Bhutan’s peace and stability as well.

It is also time that India joined hands with Bhutan to tackle the problem. India’s long experience of fighting insurgents could be crucial for Bhutan which is hamstrung by the small size of its army and the police force. India has been cautious about starting operations within Bhutanese territory in pursuit of the militants. But the visit of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk to New Delhi seems to have confirmed increasing cooperation between the two countries on this vexed issue. Unlike Bangladesh or Myanmar, where governments had sheltered and used northeastern insurgents for diplomatic and other bargains, Bhutan has been a victim of the rebels’ strategies. That New Delhi values stability in Bhutan was proved by the former’s stand on the pro-democracy agitation by the Nepalese in southern Bhutan in the mid-Nineties. United action against the northeastern rebels is not only in their mutual interest; it can bring the two countries even closer.

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