Bhutan visit: Army Chief Bipin Rawat, NSA Ajit Doval, FS discuss Doklam strategy

The visit by General Rawat, Doval and Gokhale was the first by top Indian officials from India to Bhutan after the Doklam standoff.

Written by MANASH PRATIM BHUYAN | New Delhi | Updated: February 19, 2018 5:43:17 am
Bhutan visit: Army Chief, FS, NSA discuss Doklam strategy Army Chief General Bipin Rawat. (Express photo by Amit Mehra)

IN A rare visit, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval travelled to Bhutan earlier this month where they held extensive talks with the Bhutanese leadership on key strategic issues, including the situation in Doklam and the Chinese building defence infrastructure around the plateau, according to government sources.

The sources told PTI that the two sides reviewed bilateral security and defence cooperation with focus on China’s increasing military posturing and infrastructure development around the Doklam plateau.

The visit took place between February 6 and 7 and “positive” outcomes emerged from the meetings between the Indian officials and the Bhutanese government, government sources said, adding that there were deliberations 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 came three days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks with his Bhutanese counterpart Tshering Tobgay on the sidelines of an investors’ summit in Guwahati.

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

Bhutan and China have a dispute over Doklam and are engaged in talks for a resolution. 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.

Sources said several other key officials of the Army and the Ministry of External Affairs were a part of the entourage. Asked about the foreign secretary’s visit, a diplomatic source called it “routine”.

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

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