India has vital stake in Bhutan's well-being, says Shyam Saran

Shyam Saran  

Diplomatic Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The "threat" from Maoist groups and their links with Indian left-wing extremists and insurgent groups were a matter of "mutual concern" for India and Bhutan, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said on Saturday.

Addressing a seminar on Bhutan-India relations, Mr. Saran said the two countries shared a border of about 700 kilometres. "The open borders, visa free regime and duty free trade across this border could not have been sustainable without complete understanding between our two leaderships of our mutual security concerns."

"The military operations conducted by the Royal Bhutanese Army in December 2003-January 2004 against Indian insurgent groups in Bhutan were a milestone in our joint response to terrorist activities. We look forward to continuing this cooperation by jointly upgrading our border infrastructure and management, including through better roads and communication links as well as information sharing," the Foreign Secretary said.

India and Bhutan, he said, had a vital stake in each other's well being and prosperity. "The destiny of [the] two neighbours ... regardless of their size is a shared one. Stability, peace and economic advancement are indivisible and the most durable guarantors of peaceful coexistence. It is based on this premise that India has been privileged to assist Bhutan in its task of nation building."

Hydroelectric project

Referring to cooperation in the tapping of the vast hydro resources of Bhutan, Mr. Saran said after the successes of Chukha and Kurichu, the mega 1020 MW Tala hydroelectric project on the river Wangchu would be commissioned in the first half of next year.

"The project will generate 5 million units of power and lead to major gains for both Bhutan and India in a manner that is environmentally sound and commercially viable in the long term. We are, therefore, deeply optimistic about our future cooperation in this sector where further projects are under active consideration."

India, he said, was following with keen interest the major Constitutional changes that have been initiated by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan.

"The draft Constitution was released in March this year for public debate and it is expected that many of the changes flowing from it would be in place in the next two-three years. We wish the Royal Government of Bhutan and the people of Bhutan all success in the course of this political transition and we look forward to working with Bhutan during this period and beyond."

"In many ways, our approach to Bhutan is subsumed under our overall vision for our region. It is incumbent upon us to bequeath to coming generations a region that is an engine of growth for the world economy. This requires clarity of thought and a mature appreciation of where the true interests of our peoples lie. As India and Bhutan have shown, inter-State boundaries need not be barriers but the gateways to joint and mutually-beneficial undertakings," he said.