John McCain in Bhutan

Mc Cain lacks supporters even in this part of the world.

One month after the election in the US, president runner up, Senator John McCain, was in Bhutan. If you guessed he was there to learn meditation or gaining tips to happiness, you are mistaken.

Bhutan to any outsider is a hot spot for tourists and a final destination for the adventure seekers. It is one of the most beautiful mountainous countries on the earth, where nature is less intervened by the urbanization or where a large mass of people live as an integral part of the nature. Recently, there is a brain storming going on with the concept of happiness in this part of the hemisphere. The philosophy of happiness was thought provoking, easy to deliver sermons and the rulers whimsically made it a ruling principle. When it was necessary to invent a yard stick of happiness, the social philosophers have just partnered with mathematicians to measure happiness arithmetically, present it statistically and find a scalar unit to the metaphysical concept. The output is still in the womb. But Senator McCain and his delegation were there for a different deal.

President George W Bush, who strictly avoided meeting any undemocratic active despots, chose to send his next strong men to Bhutan, during his lame duck stage. The mission of the delegation was to make sure that Thimphu regime fulfilled its part of the tacit understandings made with Washington. Bhutan and the USA are connected by the Bhutanese refugees. (See: King Kesar, President Obama and the Tug of refugees).

The US is an active member of the “Communique of the Core Working Group on Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal,” which desires to see a comprehensive and sustainable resolution for the protracted refugee situation of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. The governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Norway are the other members of the Core Working Group. The Thimphu regime had committed to the core group to find a just and durable solution to the situation of the refugees in the camps; agreed to work with the UNHCR and the Government of Nepal to provide written terms and conditions of return, including on property rights, and a clear timeline for implementation of agreed commitments for those who have already been identified for return and for those who may wish to return in the future. The core working group had also called on the government of Bhutan to ensure conditions within Bhutan that will not cause further refugee outflows in the future. On the positive node from the Thimphu regime, the core group country members had agreed to resettle the people in their countries. The US alone has assured to uptake sixty thousand and around six thousand have already reached there.

Besides, agreements and understanding between Thimphu and the core group’s countries, there were tacit and tangible agreements between Bhutan and the individual member governments of the core group. With the US, one such condition was the establishment of a full fledged US embassy in Bhutan. Before the lame duck president walks out of the white house, the latest situation in Bhutan was to be noted.

The 15 member delegation was in Bhutan to assess progress as per those understandings. For the Thimphu’s rulers, Senator McCain delegation possessed a cold shoulder. No part of the work is done. A large segment (a roughly estimated to be one hundred thousand) of the population are deprived of citizenship cards, who were denied franchise during the last election, are liable for flush out at any time. There have been no talks; neither with the Nepalese government nor with the refugee representatives. Besides, the term Democracy, there have been no major changes in the political scenario. Freedom and rights are unheard. Unemployment is soaring and the corruption is rampant. To continue a fair relation with US, the government must agree with the delegation. In return, McCain will not be in the power for the next four years, so it is an agreement for a loss.

The 15 member high level delegation including Senator John McCain, Senator Joseph Lieberman (Connecticut) and Senator Lindsay Graham (South Carolina), who were there to assess the latest situation, met with the Kings, Prime Minister, Chief Judge and other leaders of Bhutan. To the former king, the delegation asked: Mr. King, you said the people in the refugee camps in Nepal were unemployed immigrants, who would forget themselves for a square meal. Thousands of them were taken to US, given good home and nice treatment, yet they still want to return to Bhutan. How could you say they were non Bhutanese? The King had a different story to share: I initiated democracy. Education on democracy was given nationwide. More than seventy percent of the people came out to vote. The people elected party is running the government. Democracy is flourishing.

The delegation called on the prime minister to set a time line for repatriation of the people and for opening US embassy in Bhutan. The prime minister too expressed his share of burden. He shared his concern; our mountains are in great danger, there is potential danger of glacier bursts. We request US government to help us preserve our mountains, prevent glacier out bursts and to mitigate such disasters.

The delegation met with the Chief Judge of Bhutan and suggested to reform some laws and to make them accommodative. According to your laws, political opponents are rated antinationals; thus rated antinationals are punished by eviction into exile; those exiled are deprived of their citizenship and made stateless. This systematized denationalization has made thousand of people stateless. You need to reform your laws to ensure that the repatriation is done and repatriated people regain their revoked rights. The judiciary must be protective and people must have easy access to it. The Chief Judge most humbly replied, we are bound by a constitution. What ever laws the parliament makes, we follow them.

Realizing the wit and cunningness of the Bhutanese rulers, McCain delegation felt that it is not the size of the country but the ability and mind of the ruling group that determines the state of a state. The complete story will be known only to those who shall have the access to the statement the Bush government will hand over to Obama Government regarding the Bhutan and the Bhutanese refugees.

REDROOM.COM attempts to reach out to as many people as possible and provide information on Bhutan.

Govinda Rizal is a Bhutanese scientist, and writer, currently at Kyoto University in Japan.