India and China are having a standoff since few weeks now and there is no inkling that it will be called. With India and China mobilizing thousands of their troops in the Doklam area, it doesn’t look like it will come to an end soon. So, why is India at the Bhutan-China border.
Bhutan issued a demarche to China and requested the Indian army to help in checking Chinese incursion in the area in the name of construction of a road.
Indian army and Bhutan army ties goes way back. The Indian army maintains a training mission in Bhutan which is known as the Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT) which is responsible for the training of Royal Bhutan Army and Royal Bhutan Guards. The RBA and RBG officers are sent to National Defence Academy at Pune and Indian Military Academy at Dehradun.
The Project DANTAK by Border Roads Organization is operating in Bhutan since 1961 and have developed roads and bridges of around 1500 km.
Even Bhutan relies on Indian Air Force eastern command for air medical assistance. Indian Air Force helicopters evacuated the RBA casualties to India for treatment during Operation All Clear in 2003.
Bhutan’s relation with China- Bhutan is the only neighbour of China which does not have any diplomatic relation with Beijing. China has been bullying Bhutan and asking them to make concessions in its territorial jurisdiction. The main cause of the ongoing military tension between India and China lies in the border disputes between Bhutan and China.
Bhutan shares about 470 km- long boundary with China in the north and the west while India has a boundary of 605 km in the east, south and west. Like China is troubling India at the LAC, it is making overlapping claims along Bhutan border in seven pockets including the one along Arunachal Pradesh- Bhutan border near Tawang.
The conflicting area between China and Bhutan is about 4,500 sq km in patches located in west and north. Before China took over Tibet in 1959, there was absolutely no question of well defined boundary as it had open cultural and religious exchanges with its both neighbours- India and Tibet.
While having border disputes not a new thing for China, Tibet never had any one of them. Bhutan never had any geostrategic ambition and happy being a peaceful and a beautiful place.
Border disputes with China-
It all began when China tried to claim a territory which was traditionally recognized as a part of Bhutan. Bhutan begin border talks with China in 1972 and it was always under the guidance of India as the 1959 friendship treaty between India and Bhutan made it obligatory for Bhutan to take geostrategic advice from New Delhi in the matters of foreign relation.
The talks continued till 1984 and then Beijing had started insisting that Thimphu came to direct negotiation with no influence of India. The Indian Bhutan friendship treaty frustrated China as their ambition of taking control over Bhutan was not possible till the treaty breaks.
Chinese response was very hostile in 1986 and it began asserting in Chumbi Valley which comes out a dagger between Bhutan and Sikkim. It’s the place where India, Bhutan and China meet. The area is called by different names from each country.
Pockets of Disputes:
China has a different version of the boundary with Bhutan at different points of time. In 1996, China offered to give up its claim on the northern pockets if Bhutan agreed to let go its territorial jurisdiction in the west, that is Doklam.
Doklam Deal offered by China- The northern pockets of Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys have an area of about 495 sq. km against 265 km of Doklam area in western Bhutan. China also promised financial aid in Bhutan.
The offer exists till date. However, true to their deceptive nature has encroached vast tract of land in the snowy mountains of the northern region.
Bhutan would have been ready for the swap of territory to avoid any conflicts with China. But, under its friendship treaty with India it cannot take a decision on it’s own. But India’s security was in a threat when this would happen. Hence, India declined Bhutan to give in the area.
Chinese presence at Doklam brings China very close to Chicken’s Neck, which connects the north eastern states of India with the rest of country.
In 1998, China and Bhutan signed the Agreement on the maintenance of peace in the Bhutan-China border areas. But China has been illegaly occupying the Bhutanese land.
Bhutan Ceded its territory to China-
In 2007, India and Bhutan revised their friendship treaty. Now, Bhutan is free to maintain its foreign relations as per its own will.
Under pressure from China and its encroachment policy, Bhutan revised its map. Its new map excluded the tallest mountain of Bhutan Kula or Kangri. Bhutan gifted their glacial reserve to China.
The new map was approved by the Bhutanese parliament and signed by its king. But, this did not end its border disputes with China as China had different ambitions. China has not officially accepted the territorial control over Kula.
The map which shows the Chinese version of Bhutan highlights seven pockets of dispute. China claims all these seven pockets as its own.
Only time will tell what will happen, we hope India solves this by diplomacy and not giving against China under any circumstances.