Army chief Rawat, NSA Doval slip over to Bhutan on quiet visit

19 February 2018

Indian Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval travelled to Bhutan without fanfare earlier this month on a rare visit, during which they held extensive talks with the top Bhutanese leadership on strategic issues including the situation in Doklam, reports PTI citing authoritative government sources.

Ajit Doval (left) and Gen Bipin Rawat  

The sources said the two sides reviewed bilateral security and defence cooperation issues with the focus on China's increasing military presence and infrastructure development in the Doklam plateau. The visit took place between 6 and 7 February and "positive" outcomes emerged from the meetings.

The visit was the first high-level trip from India to Bhutan after the Doklam standoff, and kept under wraps by the Bhutanese and Indian sides. The visit came three days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks with his Bhutanese counterpart Tshering Tobgay on the sidelines of an investor summit in Guwahati.

The sources said the Bhutanese apprised the Indians about the status of boundary talks between Bhutan and China, and emphasised that Thimphu wants peace in the Doklam tri-junction.

Troops of India and China were locked in a 73-day-long standoff in Doklam from 16 June last year after the Indian side prevented the building of a road in the disputed Doklam tri-junction by the Chinese Army. Bhutan and China have a dispute over Doklam. The face-off ended on 28 August.

China and Bhutan are engaged in talks over the disputed area. India argues that since it is a tri-junction involving the three countries, it also has a say in the issue, especially in the backdrop of a 2012 agreement between special representatives of the two countries that have till now held 20 rounds of talks.

Bhutan has no diplomatic ties with China, and relies on diplomatic and military support from India.

The sources said several other key officials of the Army and the Ministry of External Affairs were also a part of the visit.

Asked about the foreign secretary's visit, a diplomatic source told PTI it was "routine".

This was Gen Rawat's second visit to Bhutan in the last nine months. He has been calling for adequate focus by India on its nearly 4,000 km-long border with China. Last month, he had said the time had come for the country to shift its focus from the western to the northern frontier.

Army sources told PTI China has been keeping its troops in north Doklam and significantly ramping up its infrastructure in the area.

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