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Democracy still taking root in Bhutan July 24, 2015

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bhutan, Guest authors , comments closed

Mark Turner

Bhutan was a latecomer to democracy. The small Himalayan kingdom joined the ranks of democratic nations only in 2008 when the first national elections were held and its constitution approved. But since then, how is democracy developing in the country?

Elections are the most visible symbols of democratic rule. There have been two national elections — in 2008 and 2013 — to choose the members of the partisan National Assembly and the non-partisan National Council. The system seems to be working well. The 2013 election saw greater political competition with two new parties running alongside the two original parties for the National Assembly. And there were more candidates for positions in the National Council. This non-partisan body acts as the house of review in the Bhutanese parliament.

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Assam: friction in a crucial corridor July 30, 2012

Posted by sandygordon in : Bangladesh, Bhutan, Gordon, Sandy, India , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

A week ago some 48 people were killed in Assam in clashes between the Bodo ethnic group (a Tibetan-Burmese people who are now predominantly Christian and Hindu) and Muslim Bengali immigrants, mainly from Bangladesh and its previous incarnations. Approximately 400,000 have also been displaced from their villages. These are by no means the first such ethnic clashes in Assam, the most recent being between Bengalis and Bodos four years ago, which left 70 dead. The worst attacks occurred in 1983, when an estimated 2000 Bengali Muslims were killed.

Since well before the British left in 1947, Bengali Muslims have been crossing into Assam. Pushed by desperation, they often occupied the shifting char lands – dangerous but fertile flood plains of the rivers that criss-cross the region. Since independence in 1947, East Pakistanis, and later Bangladeshis, have continued to cross the poorly policed, poorly defined border. There are now an estimated 10-20 million Bangladeshis in India. But of course not all Bengali Muslims are in Assam illegally and many have been there for generations. As pointed out by the New York Times, it is well nigh impossible to distinguish between those legitimately in Assam and those who have come illegally.

Besides the devastating displacement and loss of life, ethnic unrest in Assam is important for a number of reasons.

India's North East - this version includes Sikkim

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Power plays in Bhutan exemplify India’s growing influence March 30, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bhutan, DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, India, Maldives, South Asia - General , comments closed

Serge DeSilva-Ranasinghe

For nearly a decade the intensifying rivalry between India and China has been seen in practically every country in South Asia. In South Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, India has often encountered hurdles in attempting to expand its influence due to both political and historical reasons. Conversely, and as recently demonstrated in the Maldives, India has also successfully strengthened its influence in a number of smaller regional countries.  For example, in the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, India has positioned itself as Thimphu’s  closest ally.

With an estimated 75 per cent of the population Buddhist and 25 per cent Hindu, the people of Bhutan have traditionally shared strong linguistic, religious and cultural similarities to India, Nepal and Tibet . Since British influence was removed from South Asia following Indian Independence, relations with China have grown more complicated, especially since 1950, when China invaded and occupied Tibet resulting in thousands of Tibetan refugees seeking asylum in Bhutan. Later, in 1960, Bhutan decided to close its northern border with China. The border remains closed to this day.

 

Two boys in traditional dress outside the King’s palace, Thimphu, Bhutan.

For decades now Bhutan’s relationship with China has remained underdeveloped and practically stagnant, with no official diplomatic relations. However, some minor successes have been noted, such as when Bhutan voted in favour of China’s UN seat in 1971. Similarly, Bhutan has continued to honour its commitment to the ‘One China’ policy and has also signed the 1998 Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity in the Bhutan-China Border Areas. Nonetheless, these minor achievements have not necessarily translated into better relations. For example, trade relations have remained at minimal levels and equated to around US$1 million in 2002, according to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since then, bilateral trade statistics have been difficult to obtain, but there are few indications to suggest any marked increases in trade.

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Renewed tension on the India-China border: who’s to blame? September 3, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bhutan, Guest authors , comments closed

Guest Author: Neville Maxwell, ANU

This contribution first appeared on our sister web site, East Asia Forum.

‘So solidly built into our consciousness is the concept that China is conducting a rapacious and belligerent foreign policy that whenever a dispute arises in which China is involved she is instantly assumed to have provoked it.’ — Felix Greene 1965.

India is heavily reinforcing its Army and Air Force units on its undefined border with China (two additional infantry divisions, a squadron of attack aircraft, refurbishing airfields etc). This is in breach of the parties’ obligation under a 1993 Sino-Indian treaty to keep force levels in border areas to ‘a minimum level compatible with … friendly and good neighbourly relations’, and Beijing has protested angrily and publicly.

India_Military_Parade2

Indian military parade

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South Asia roundup July 17, 2009

Posted by katesullivan in : Bhutan, India, Maldives, Pakistan, South Asia - General, Sullivan, Kate , comments closed

Kate Sullivan

Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group, India‘s largest conglomerate, will hand over the keys to the first Nano owner at the Tata Motors showroom in central Mumbai today. Dubbed the world’s cheapest car, the Nano has had a tricky journey from its conception in 2003 to its unveiling last year, facing rising commodity prices and political controversy. Set to bring car ownership into the reach of tens of millions of people, the Nano has been the subject of an avalanche of press commentary over the past few months, with even Top Gear seeing fit to provide an online profile.

nano

Photo sourced from Flickr and used under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

On the sidelines of the 15th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Egypt yesterday, India and Pakistan convened for what was their third high-level meeting since the Mumbai attacks last November. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh released an overwhelmingly positive joint statement in which they agreed to “create an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence”. The statement’s most groundbreaking element – “Action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process” – was, however, its most ambiguous. (more…)