Army Chief, NSA Ajit Doval make rare visit Bhutan to discus Doklam strategy

The highly-secretive visit to Bhutan, according to sources, took place between February 6-7.

Army Chief, NSA Ajit Doval make rare visit Bhutan to discus Doklam strategy

New Delhi: Several months after the peaceful resolution of a border stand-off with China, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had made a quiet visit to Bhutan during which they discussed the situation in Doklam with the Bhutanese leadership.

Besides Doklam, the trio also reportedly held discussions on China effort to build a strong defence infrastructure around the plateau, PTI quoted highly placed government sources as saying on Sunday.

The sources claimed that the trio visited Bhutan nearly two weeks back during which 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, according to sources, took place between February 6-7.

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”.

The meeting between the Indian and the Bhutanese officials was held in a “positive” atmosphere, the government sources said.

Besides Doklam, there were deliberations on how to further strengthen defence and security cooperation between the two countries. 

Importantly, this was the first visit by top Indian officials to Bhutan after the Doklam stand-off and was kept under wraps by the Bhutanese and Indian sides.

The trio left for Bhutan 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 Doklam from June 16 last year after the Indian side stopped construction of a road at the disputed Doklam tri-junction by the Chinese army. Bhutan and China have a dispute over Doklam. 

The face-off ended on August 28. 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. 

This was Gen 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 km-long border with China. 

Rawat said this in light of reports that China has been keeping its troops in north Doklam and significantly ramping up its infrastructure in the area.

The Army has also been strengthening the presence of its troops in certain key sectors along the Sino-India border besides enhancing border infrastructure. 

In November last, Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck had visited India. 

(With PTI inputs)