INDIA’S PLAN to isolate Pakistan and move ahead with “sub-regional connectivity” appears to have hit a wall, as Bhutan has backed out of the BBIN (Bhutan-Bangladesh-India-Nepal) motor vehicles pact “for now”. This has forced the Indian government to consider alternative options which will involve only Bangladesh and Nepal.
Bhutan has conveyed to India that the pact cannot be ratified in its parliament since there is opposition and the Tshering Tobgay government, which is heading for polls next year, does not want to take the political risk “at the moment”. Bhutan’s opposition has cited issues pertaining to increased traffic, pollution and potential job losses if vehicles from the other three countries are allowed to ply freely in their country.
Sources told The Indian Express that Tobgay conveyed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, through diplomatic channels earlier this week, about his inability to push through the legislation. He suggested that India, Bangladesh and Nepal could go ahead with the project “for now”, and Bhutan would join at a “later date”.
The BBIN connectivity project was revived in early 2015, after the SAARC motor vehicles agreement was blocked by Pakistan at the SAARC summit in November 2014. South Block is now considering the option of moving forward with Bangladesh and Nepal.
In a statement on Thursday, Bhutan said: “Recognising the importance of connectivity for expansion of economic cooperation, the transport ministers of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal signed the motor vehicles agreement for regulation of passenger, personal and cargo vehicular traffic between BBIN on June 15, 2015 in Thimphu.”
While the other three countries have already ratified the agreement, the statement said that Bhutan’s government “is in the process of completing its internal procedures for ratification to address the concerns raised by the domestic stakeholders.”
It said that “to facilitate early implementation of BBIN MVA”, Bhutan’s government “has decided to give its consent for the entry into force of the agreement among the three member states (Bangladesh, India and Nepal) without any obligation to Bhutan. The agreement will enter into force for Bhutan after its ratification process is completed.”
Sources said New Delhi got Thimphu to make this clear in a public statement so that Bangladesh and Nepal are able to convince their domestic audience.
“Yes, we have withdrawn from BBIN for now as it would be better to have something where there is a harmonious position among the people. Currently, the environment is not right for it with entrenched positions,” Tobgay told the Bhutanese parliament last week.
The Bhutanese government took the step after it realised that it does not have the numbers in parliament in case of a joint sitting. A clear majority of the apolitical National Council or Upper House and the opposition party in the National Assembly have already voted against BBIN.