Paradigm Shift

Thinking beyond India, Bhutan is now better equipped to engage in international diplomacy, broaden its network of foreign allies, and shape its destiny on its own.

By Gulnaz Nawaz | July 2023

Bhutan has a long history of close relationships with its neighbours, notably India. The Himalayan Mountains pass through some geographically-connected regions that play a significant role in fostering economic and cultural exchange between the countries in the Himalayan region. This interaction is very critical to the growth of Bhutan’s cultural and economic institutions because it promotes mutual understanding and harmony in the region. The ascendancy of the Wangchuck dynasty to power in Bhutan was a turning point in the development of the nation. Ugyen Wangchuck, Bhutan’s first hereditary monarch, ushered in a new era.

As a consequence, the economic, cultural and diplomatic connections between Bhutan and India developed in new ways. The connection between both countries has progressed from a treaty made during the British colonial period to present-day. Bhutan’s development in its almost all spheres would not have been possible without India’s help, investment, and knowledge transfer. Both nations share many interests, including military training, trade and cultural exchange, as well as regional stability.

Being its closest neighbour and greatest commercial partner, India has played a crucial role in Bhutan’s infrastructure, economic and social development over the years. New Delhi has provided substantial help and grants for Thimphu’s economic growth. Agriculture, medicine, education, and technology are just some of the fields where Indian and Bhutanese specialists are working together. Bhutan’s capacity-building and human resource development have benefited from this sharing of information and skills. In addition to helping Bhutan become energy independent, the hydropower projects, which were constructed with Indian aid, have brought in much-needed money to small Himalayan country. This partnership has bolstered Bhutan’s economy and laid the groundwork for the country’s long-term growth.

Thanks to the military training support and security expertise and assistance offered by New Delhi, the people of Bhutan may rest assured that their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will be protected. The cooperation has made it possible to foster a prosperous commercial relationship between the two countries. The spectrum of commodities and services traded between Bhutan and India is extensive. Bhutan’s closeness to India’s massive consumer market has opened up substantial economic prospects, boosting exports and investments, and creating new jobs.

Bhutan has been quite vocal about its independence and sovereignty in recent years. While Bhutan still values its close relationship with India, it has adopted a more aggressive foreign policy that gives it more control over its own future. The drive for diplomatic parity in Bhutan is behind the country’s newfound emphasis on national sovereignty. The kingdom has been working to change its status as a helpless receiver and have a voice in international decision-making. One of Bhutan’s primary foreign policy tenets is the country’s commitment to the ideals of sovereignty, non-interference, and equality. Bhutan is seeking greater independence from international organizations for many reasons.

To begin with, as a newly independent nation, Bhutan is eager to increase its grip and influence over its own foreign policy, economic decisions, and regional involvement. This change reflects Bhutan’s maturation as a country and its growing confidence in its capacity to negotiate and grapple with the intricate international scene. Further, Bhutan may be able to better protect its national interests by reducing its reliance on any one nation and increasing its network of friends and allies abroad. Bhutan’s economic growth and development will be boosted by increasing the breadth of its diplomatic relations with other countries. This would allow the country to take advantage of more trade, investment, and collaboration potential. Bhutan must strike a balance between preserving its cultural traditions, safeguarding its geographic integrity and modernizing its economy. It has always been one of Bhutan’s highest priorities to protect its rich cultural heritage from the word go.

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