The worst form of terrorism is cross-border one, says Tshering Tobgay

Bhutan supports India on surgical strikes along LoC, says Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay.

October 16, 2016 08:48 pm | Updated December 01, 2016 06:28 pm IST

Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay. Photo: Prashant Nakwe

Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay. Photo: Prashant Nakwe

Bhutan stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with India in its fight against terror, said Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, adding that its decision to pull out of the SAARC summit came as an act of solidarity with India. “The security situation is deteriorating because of terror and terrorism which cannot be tolerated. And the worst form of terrorism is cross-border terrorism,” Mr. Tobgay said in an exclusive interview to The Hindu. “If you are going to act only when you have been violated personally, then you can’t claim to be part of a greater commons,” Mr. Tobgay said. In Goa for the BRICS-BIMSTEC outreach summit, Mr. Tobgay spoke to Diplomatic Editor Suhasini Haidar about the failure of SAARC, revival of BIMSTEC and bilateral ties.


How does Bhutan view the current tensions between India and Pakistan, SAARCs two biggest nations, then?

Well we are worried. [Tensions] worry the countries involved, they worry the region and it worries the world. The security situation is not conducive to hold the SAARC summit at present; this is what everybody has said. Hopefully the other processes of the SAARC will continue and hopefully we will be able to hold the SAARC summit soon. But we must call a spade a spade. When the security situation is not conducive, it’s good to acknowledge it and look for solutions. The security situation is deteriorating because of terror and terrorism which cannot be tolerated. And, the worst form of terrorism is cross-border terrorism. These are serious issues and it is hoped they will be resolved.

Can other SAARC countries help or put pressure on Pakistan to end the cross-border terror that India is concerned about?

No country should ever be allowed to facilitate or allow cross-border terrorism, and my sense is if a country engages in this they know what they are getting into. The onus is not on the other countries, but the ones involved. The very fact that the SAARC summit was postponed for security concerns should be a strong enough message for [them].

While Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh believe the terrorism emanates from Pakistan, Bhutan is not. What made you join them in pulling out of the SAARC summit? Were you asked to?

We are all together in SAARC. And, what happens in the region is our collective concern. If you are going to act only when you have been violated personally, then you can’t claim to be a part of a greater commons. Bhutan and India are friends, and if we see a friend’s security undermined, we will stand up and stand shoulder to shoulder with India.

Do you then support India’s decision to launch cross-LoC strikes on terror launch pads in Pakistan occupied Kashmir?

Well, it’s for India to determine what it needs to do. Anything that India does to protect its security, its borders and its own citizens, Bhutan will support.

You are here for the BIMSTEC outreach to the BRICS summit. How important is this, given BIMSTEC was started 20 years ago, but didn’t even have an office until 5 years ago?

For BIMSTEC, its better than nothing. It is better than having no BIMSTEC. So while people might say it’s taken too long, call it a talk shop, years to establish a secretariat, it’s better to have that than nothing at all. It’s better to have cooperation between countries in the region, it’s better to foster trust and confidence, and for that organisations are needed and BIMSTEC is one such organisation. Some may have wanted BIMSTEC to accomplish a lot more, and it has not. That doesn’t mean it’s a failure, just that it’s taking time. The BIMSTEC outreach to BRICS is a fantastic opportunity that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is giving us, and he is giving an example to the world that we must aggressively seek opportunities.

Five of the eight SAARC countries are present here too. Do you think BIMSTEC can be the new SAARC in the region and what political pitfalls must it avoid that SAARC couldn’t?

Let’s not bury SAARC yet. All our countries including India and Bhutan are committed to the SAARC process. BIMSTEC started 20 years ago, that didn’t herald the downfall of SAARC. BIMSTEC was established because it was an opportunity to link parts of South-East Asia to parts of South Asia, and it has grown bit by bit. It wasn’t meant to be an alternative to SAARC and cannot be that. Let me re-emphasise that the SAARC is not dead. Obstacles have been the nature of SAARC but every member is committed.

To come to bilateral ties, the biggest revenue earner and bond between India and Bhutan is over hydropower. Yet despite committing to producing 10,000 MW of electricity projects by 2020, they have only built capacity for about 3,000 MW. Given the delays and cost escalation, is hydropower still as viable as it was when they were announced?

We have a standing agreement for constructing projects of 10,000 MW by 2020, which is a deadline we will not achieve, and will have to push it. But hydropower remains the most viable and doable power source for Bhutan. It is good for Bhutan, India and the region. Many of these projects were declared a decade ago and obviously the cost will escalate by the execution. If the geology changes, then those also affect the project time and cost.

Are questions now being asked about big hydel projects by environmental activists a concern, given Bhutan is a carbon-zero country? I ask because recently when Manas reserve in Assam was flooded, environmentalists blamed the project on Kirichu river in Bhutan?

There is a concerted effort by experts to undermine the development of hydropower in Bhutan. We enjoy the legacy of our King in the form of our pristine environment. We have 70% of our land under forest cover. This is unprecedented the world over. By pointing to hydropower as something undermining our environment they are making a mistake. I have thought about this for a long time, and I believe hydropower actually builds the environment, not degrades it. Because hydel projects require sustained water, which you will only get if the forests upstream are managed well.

Without these projects there are no guarantees that we won’t deforest the area. Flooding that happens is weather related. This year we have had an unusual amount of rain and they affected India and Bangladesh. Environmentalists should realise that because of the electricity we generate, we don’t cut down fire wood. The energy we generate already that we sell to India is offsetting carbon emissions there. The 3,000 MW we will generate soon will offset 17 million tonnes of carbon every year. Is that good or not? India’s total transport emissions could be offset. Let’s be clear that none of our hydel projects are based on storage dams, they are all run-of-the-river schemes.

Do you see hydropower as a way of engaging the region apart from India?

Yes, eventually why not? We would like to supply electricity to not just the BBIN (Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal) region but also the SAARC region. India needs energy, but it has plans to be self sufficient. Bangladesh needs energy, while Nepal has huge potential.

BBIN has hit a roadblock on the Indian initiative for the motor vehicles agreement for seamless connectivity, as the Bill has not been passed by the Upper House of Parliament a year after your own timeline for adopting the agreement?

We are just going through the process, the Parliament meets twice a year and I am hopeful it will be passed in the upcoming winter session. BBIN allows for enhancing connectivity between our countries, not to overwhelm any one country in the process. The concerns in Bhutan, of our lawmakers, our media, our people are well founded, as our country is very small, our roads narrow and infrastructure limited. So the prospect of millions of cars coming in, however remote that prospect might be is very scary. There is a big asymmetry between Bhutan and the other countries, but we want to cooperate and be part of any regional cooperation. Our government sees BBIN as an opportunity to streamline processes for traffic, not to inundate our country.

You’ve said that Bhutan is one of the world’s smallest countries sandwiched between two of the world’s largest countries. With worries about greater benefits of globalisation and connectivity, will Bhutan change its policy of not doing business with China or opening diplomatic ties with Beijing?

To open any links, we need to have a proper border with China. But we don’t have a demarcated border with China. We recently concluded the 24th round of talks with China on the border, and we haven’t yet had a resolution. So we must be patient. But every square inch of land is important for us. So once we have a demarcated border, then we can talk about other things like road, connectivity, etc. We are neighbours, and our talks have always been publicly known. Right now, Bhutan is one of the fastest growing countries, trade with India and the region is growing, so economically things are looking bright for Bhutan. So while eventually we may need to look beyond India and BBIN and SAARC and BIMSTEC, right now we are happy that our economy is growing in the manner it is.

Has India conveyed any concerns about the possibility of ties between Bhutan and China opening up?

India has security concerns because it shares a long border with China and many parts of the border are disputed. As India’s very close friend, Bhutan is always mindful of India’s concerns.

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