Bhutan’s then king Jigme Singye Wangchuck warned India of pressures from China in 1999, writes former R&AW chief A.S. Dulat in his latest book. Mr. Dulat says the former King’s words were “prophetic” about India-China tensions in Doklam in 2017 and the build-up of infrastructure by China that has followed. He also says that New Delhi’s “muscular policy” on a range of issues, including the situation in Kashmir, and tough foreign policy in the neighbourhood led to “failures”.
According to the book, Mr. Dulat, who visited Thimphu for three days in 1999, spent time with the then king, known as “K4”, who abdicated to his son, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in 2005.
“Democracy is coming sooner rather than later. But [the Indian establishment] is making things a little difficult for us. The Chinese are breathing down our necks,” Mr. Dulat paraphrases the former King as telling him during his visit, adding that the King was convinced the problems with China would “only increase” if India “pushed” Bhutan too much. Mr. Dulat, who is now retired and lives in Delhi, told The Hindu that he believed the former King was referring to Chinese pressure at the time to conclude the border settlement with Bhutan. He also said that the King was convinced that as Bhutan grew more democratic, there would be more engagement with China on the issue.
24 rounds of talks
Since 1984, Bhutan and China have held 24 rounds of talks largely focused on “swapping” two separate areas of dispute: Doklam and other areas near the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction measuring 269 sq. km, with the Jakarlung and Pasamlung valleys located near Tibet to Bhutan’s north, which measure 495 sq. km. Through the 2000s, the talks didn’t make much headway, after New Delhi made its reservations clear, but the talks were resumed subsequently, and in 2021, China and Bhutan announced a “3-step road map” for a resolution of the boundary disputes between them.
In addition, Mr. Dulat notes that since the India-China standoff at Doklam ended in 2017, China has increased its infrastructure in the area, including a road and “model village” on the eastern periphery of the Doklam plateau. “The old King [Jigme Singye Wangchuck] was a sharp man, and looking back, his remarks have been prophetic,” Mr. Dulat writes in the memoirs.
The book, which has been in the news for Mr. Dulat’s dealings with separatist leaders of the Hurriyat in Kashmir during his time in the Intelligence Bureau, and former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s office, and for an entire chapter about National Security Adviser Ajit Doval called “Spooks as friends: a tale of two spymasters” about their work on Kashmir, and during the IC-814 hijack, also includes a number of direct conversations he had with world leaders. Mr. Dulat writes that even a decade after former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by the LTTE, then Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga suspected that India had links with LTTE chief Prabhakaran, and had summoned Mr. Dulat to ask him about his whereabouts. He says that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was “another leader who liked to get her intelligence briefings directly from the head of the R&AW”.
In his earlier role as a security official with the Intelligence Bureau, Mr. Dulat recounts his meeting with PLO chief Yasser Arafat in 1980, who received special permission from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s office to allow him as a foreign leader to carry a revolver on his person, and with British Prince Charles (now King Charles III) and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, both of whom complained of being “frozen out” in icy conversations with Mrs. Gandhi during their respective visits to India. He also claims that it was former Russian intelligence chief Vyacheslav Trubnikov who first devised the plan for Russia-India-China (RIC) cooperation, and arranged a meeting between Mr. Dulat and then Russian Premier Vladimir Putin. During Trubnikov’s visit to Delhi next, he sought and received a reciprocal meeting with Prime Minister Vajpayee, the book adds. The memoirs follow Mr. Dulat’s previous controversial works, including “Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years”, and “Spy Chronicles” that he co-authored with former ISI Chief Asad Durrani.