Army chief General Bipin Rawat, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale make rare visit to Bhutan, discuss Doka La strategy

New Delhi: In a rare visit, army chief General Bipin Rawat, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval quietly travelled to Bhutan earlier this month where they held extensive talks with the Bhutanese leadership on key strategic issues including the situation in Doka La and the Chinese building defence infrastructure around the plateau, authoritative government sources said.

File image of Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat. PTI

File image of Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat. PTI

The sources told PTI that the two sides reviewed bilateral security and defence cooperation with a focus on China’s increasing military posturing and infrastructure development around the Doklam plateau. The visit took place between 6 and 7 February and “positive” outcomes emerged from the meetings between the key Indian officials and the Bhutanese government, multiple government sources said, adding 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 Doka La standoff, and was 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 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.

Troops of India and China were locked in a 73-day-long standoff in Doka La from 16 June last year after the Indian side stopped construction of a road at the disputed Doka La 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 resolution of the 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.

The sources said several other key officials of the army and the ministry of external affairs were also 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 last nine months. Gen Rawat has been calling for adequate focus by India on its nearly 4,000 kilometre-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 said China has been keeping its troops in north Doka La and significantly ramping up its infrastructure in the area.

The Indian Army has also been strengthening the presence of its troops in certain key sectors along the China-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.

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Updated Date: Feb 18, 2018 22:02:43 IST

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