Wednesday, November 12, 2008

US and Indian Policy Paradox

Source: The Seoul Times
By Bhim Prasad Bhurtel

US president Bush has announced two key policies at the second term presidential inaugural address; 'expansion of freedom' and 'export of democracy' in the world. However, in Bhutanese case Bush's policies are paradoxical. The USA, Canada, Australia and Norway are planning to resettle about 80000 Bhutanese refugees who are staying in Nepal since last 16 years in their land as initiated by USA.

One-sixth of Bhutanese population is exiled in Nepal since 16 years following their ouster from Bhutan claiming that they are non-Bhutanese by the establishment. Bhutan is landlocked country and refugees entered Nepal via Indian path. The refugees consider themselves only to be Bhutanese nationals no other else. They want a dignified and esteemed return to their homeland. However, they are victims of political apathy of the Bhutanese government that does not consider them Bhutanese nationals. The establishment has already redistributed their land to others and is not interested in ensuring their repatriation.

The Bhutanese refugees were permitted to enter Nepal on Humanitarian ground or else it would be the problem of India and Bhutan. The Nepalese government has erroneously stepped as a bilateral player and has held 15 rounds of talks with the Bhutanese government in the past. Nepal is not in a position to assimilate them into the country. In fact Nepal has now made it quite clear that the problem is between the Bhutanese government and the refugees.

The prolonged exile of Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal is a major human rights deficit in the South Asia. The attempts to resolve the issue on the part of many actors have resulted in little or nothing to alleviate the suffering of the Bhutanese refugees.

The issue of the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal is ultimately an issue of justice which demands that Bhutan not only get away with the expulsion of its citizens, but makes sure that the refugees get back their country and their right to live a normal life.

The South Asia has differing levels of democracy. Nonetheless, the idea of democracy remains an attractive one. The Bhutanese refugees are doubly marginalized–rendered both ousted and stateless. They need the help of the international communities to get their rights back, and to ensure that Bhutan adopts a democratic dispensation. For this establishing real democracy and the enduring freedom are preconditions in Bhutan.

Given the protracted nature of the problem, USA has come up with a resettlement proposal. It has been accepted only by a segment of the refugees. Only about 32000 refugees have registered to resettle in the third country among 107431. About 3000 refugees have already resettled in US. The proposal has glinted off a controversy and created confusion amongst the refugees. They want a lasting solution to the crisis which is their dignified and safe return to Bhutan and nowhere else. Another issue of concern is the fear among the refugees that camps could become a fertile breeding ground for violence and terrorism if further prolong the problem. The refugee problem may be a destabilizing factor in South Asia.

US led humanitarian solution is welcomed, as the lingering nature of the refugee issue but as a temporary measure only. Given the intractability of the problem, resettlement is an alternative. However it is not a permanent solution. If resettlement is carried out the problem of democratic deficient Bhutan and the contraction of freedom of Bhutanese remain same.

In fact, there are two issues: first related to ushering democracy in Bhutan. Second is related to the situation of the refugees. In addressing the refugee issue however, it is always borne in mind that the democracy deficit in Bhutan that has resulted in the refugee issue in the first place. The democracy, freedom and the problem of refugees could not be separated.

Indeed reasons for prolonged the lethargy and reluctance of the Indian government to tackle this problem. There is an urgent need to make the Indian government realize that it must take a more responsible approach to human rights violations in the region, given its geo-political importance in South Asia.

India's role is crucial. India is also interested on third country involvement for resettlement excluding safe return to Bhutan. As the biggest functioning democracy in the region, with tremendous economic clout, it is certainly in a position to correct the great atrocities done to the refugees.

India may have the most influence on Bhutan to push for a solution. That might be amenable to the refugees. But India steadfastly refused to get involved. This is ultimately an issue of justice that demands Bhutan does not get away with the expulsion of its citizens. Bush administration should motivate India to established democracy in Bhutan and enduring freedom to Bhutanese people and ensuring their dignified return to Bhutan. The resettlement of Bhutanese refugees in third country neither resolves the problem nor stabilizes the region. Bush administration should stimulate India in this line for the stability in South Asia. US Establishment should bear in mind that resettlement of Bhutanese refugees in third countries neither export democracy nor expand freedom in Bhutan.

Bhim Prasad Bhurtel is Executive Director of Nepal South Asia Centre, a Kathmandu based think tank regional NGO engaged in two core issues; democracy and development in south Asia. Author can be reached at

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