Bhutan is not only our neighbor but also a friend forever. Bangladesh’s relations with Bhutan began at a historic time when the people of Bangladesh were fighting against the Pakistani army for independence. Their inspiration and support gave courage to the people of Bangladesh that day.
Since then, the people of the two countries have been bound by a spiritual bond. Trust and mutual respect were created between the leaders and people of the two countries. Meanwhile, Bhutan’s accession to the United Nations in September 1971 created a position for it in the world community, which played a positive role in influencing world public opinion on the question of our independence.
Although Bhutan supported our liberation war, it needed time to officially recognize Bangladesh. The two countries that first recognized Bangladesh as an independent sovereign state on December 6, 1971 were Bhutan and India.
An eternal beacon of friendship flooded millions of streams of inspiration across the skies of Bangladesh that day with the firm resolve to liberate the entire Bengali nation from the enemy. That recognition presented Bangladesh as an independent country in the world court and paved the way for other countries to come forward for recognition.
At the heart of Bhutan’s boundless courage was the strength of his unwavering friendship with Bangladesh. That relationship between the two countries has touched fifty years.
The then King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, arrived in Bangladesh on a three-day state visit on December 26, 1974 to strengthen the existing ties of friendship between the two countries.
During the visit, in the formal meeting between Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the King of Bhutan, they agreed that the principles of our relations would be sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence, mutual Respect. (Five principles of Peaceful coexistence). In fact, the relations between the two countries have reached today’s stage based on these principles.
The Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina visited Bhutan in 2009. She also attended the 18th SAARC Summit held in 2010 in Thimphu, Bhutan. The King of Bhutan visited Bangladesh in March 2011 and February 2013. The Prime Minister of Bhutan visited Bangladesh in January 2011 as the Chairperson of SAARC. In 2012, His Late Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the Third King of Bhutan, was posthumously honored for his contribution to our war of independence.
In 2014, the Prime Minister of Bhutan visited Bangladesh. The Queen Mother of Bhutan visited Bangladesh in 2016. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Bhutan in April 2016. The current Prime Minister of Bhutan, Dasho (Dr) Lotay Tshering, paid a bilateral visit to Bangladesh in April 2019. At that time, a number of cooperation documents were also signed between the two countries in various fields.
During this long period, a significant number of ministerial and government officials visited the two countries. Since most of the official level visits follow a specific structure or context, these talks have been very fruitful in the field of bilateral relations. Apart from this, the participation of the representatives of the two countries in various regional or sub-regional meetings held in the two countries can be noticed.
Regionally, Bangladesh has achieved success by cooperating in various fields through various forums such as SAARC, BIMSTEC, Colombo Plan, BBIN etc. Bhutan’s cooperation and effective role in this regard is commendable. Under these, several projects including new initiatives are being considered.
The amount of trade between the two countries is not very high though Bhutan has a positive trade balance with Bangladesh. This is because the lion’s share of Bhutan’s total demand is met by importing goods from India. The authorized trade agreement signed between the two countries on December 6, 2020, instead of the previous general trade agreement, can be expected to increase and expand the volume of trade between the two countries.
We know that Bhutan has very close relations with Bangladesh in the field of education. A significant number of Bhutanese students are studying various subjects, especially medicine, in various public and private educational institutions in Bangladesh. By creating the necessary infrastructure, Bangladesh can attract more Bhutanese students for higher education in fields other than medicine.
Bhutan is not only one of our closest neighbors, but it has a special place among the friends of Bangladesh. Bhutan was the first country to recognize Bangladesh during the war of liberation. So, our relationship with Bhutan is also spiritual.
Bhutan has come a long way in hydropower generation. We have a great opportunity to import electricity from the country. In fact, the discussion has been going on for several years.
We hope the matter will be finalized soon. On the other hand, Bhutan can get cooperation from Bangladesh in the fields of agriculture, education, ICT etc. Bhutan’s current Prime Minister studied at Mymensingh Medical College and he can speak good Bengali. As a result, there is now an opportunity to expand friendly relations between the two countries.
The current era is one of connectivity. Bangladesh’s sea port such as Chattogram, Mangla, Payra and Saidpur airport can be opened for Bhutan to boost ties. In fact, the expansion of bilateral trade is now urgent.
The most important thing is to expand tourism relations between the two countries. The number of Bhutanese tourists visiting Bangladesh is much lesser than the number of Bangladeshi tourists visiting Bhutan. If the country’s tourism industry can be expanded, it is possible to attract more Bhutanese tourists. We look forward to the continued prosperity of our fraternal relations with Bhutan.
Bangladesh and Bhutan signed PTA. The people of two states are benefitting from this. Now Bangladeshi apparel, medicine, agricultural products are being exported to Bhutan and Bhutanese fresh foods are being imported into Bangladesh.
Tackling Covid-19, environmental issue, counter terrorism approach may be some issues to work together.
Bangladesh-Bhutan relations stands on a strong ground and foundations and the ties between Bangladesh and Bhutan are eternal.
By MD Pathik Hasan
The writer is a Dhaka based NGO worker and Freelance writer on current international issues.