Indian Army Chief's secret visit to neighbouring country to halt Chinese influence


NEW DELHI: Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval made a secret visit to Bhutan in early February where they held extensive talks with the Bhutanese leadership on several key and strategic issues.

India is worried after an intelligence report warned that China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) has been patrolling the areas which are held by the Royal Bhutan Army, say sources.

Besides intrusive patrolling, the PLA is also believed to have held armed patrol in the areas held by Royal Bhutan Army at Lhariong, Sarithang, Sinchulumpa and Pangka La. The PLA is actively conducting reconnaissance sorties by fighter jets and helicopters over these areas and also in North Doklam.

The PLA is consolidating its force in Doklam, where India and China were engaged in a 73-day-long standoff from June 16, 2017 after the Indian side stopped construction of a road at the disputed Doklam tri-junction by the Chinese army.

In conjunction with the field defences constructed in North Doklam, the PLA has erected nearly 25 small to medium size tents alongside open communication trenches in the area of Doka La Spur. A PLA observation post with China flag has also been seen in the area.

In the secret meeting held between the Indian and Bhutanese leadership, the situation in Doklam and Chinese forces building defence infrastructure around the plateau were discussed. The two sides are believed to have also reviewed bilateral security and defence cooperation with a focus on China's increasing military posturing and infrastructure development around the Doklam plateau.

The focus of the meeting was also on how to further strengthen defence and security cooperation between the two countries.

The visit by General Rawat, Doval and Gokhale was the first by top Indian officials from India to Bhutan after the Doklam standoff, and was kept under wraps by the Bhutanese and Indian sides. It comes days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks with his Bhutanese counterpart Tshering Tobgay on the sidelines of an investors’ summit in Guwahati.

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

China and Bhutan are engaged in talks over the resolution of the Doklam dispute in the area. India has argued that it 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. As a close friend and neighbour, Bhutan enjoys diplomatic and military support from India.

This was General 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.

The Indian Army has also been strengthening the presence of its troops in certain key sectors along the Sino-India border besides enhancing border infrastructure. Rawat had visited Bhutan in April last year, while the then Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar had travelled there in October last. In November last, Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck had visited India.