Indian media should do their homework on Bhutan’s 2003 Operation All Clear

18 Indian soldiers of the Dogra Regiment were killed on 4th June 2015 in an ambush attack by NSCN (K), which is one of the two major Naga militant groups in India’s North-Eastern region. They also maintain a presence along the Indo-Myanmar border since Naga tribes are also found in Myanmar.

Given that this was one of the biggest peacetime losses for the Indian Army it moved quickly and on 9th June 2015 launched an operation against two Naga camps using five choppers and around 40 special-force personnel. The Indian Army claimed that around 20 militants were killed.

India pursued the militants based on a Memorandum of Understanding signed with Myanmar on 8th May 2014 and only after taking due permission from the Myanmar government.

The Indian media went into a wild celebratory mood with the apparent success of the Myanmar operations and there were high levels of jingoism.

All of this is fine, but the problem for Bhutan started when many Indian media outlets both in print and broadcast started giving a background of previous Indian military operations in other countries in the region.

Quite a few of them, including major news outlets and senior commentators claimed that the Indian Army in 2003 killed or captured 650 ULFA and Bodo militants in Bhutan.

Now as almost every Bhutanese leader, soldier, and citizen will know, this is a complete falsehood as the December 2003 Operation All Clear was conducted entirely by the Royal Bhutan Army led by none other than His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

In fact the Indian government and the Indian Army acknowledge this fact apart from the respected Indian think tanks and strategic institutes who have produced papers praising Bhutan for the military action conducted by its troops.

It is true that the Indian Army initially made an offer to go after the camps in Bhutan with very large numbers of Indian soldiers but His Majesty the Fourth King declined as Bhutan did not want any foreign troops conducting operations on its soil. It was also an issue of the country’s sovereignty as Bhutan wanted to take action against militants who posed a major danger to Bhutan’s security.

The casualties and injuries of the Bhutanese troops in battle also stand testimony to the operation and their sacrifice.

The bravery of the Bhutanese militia drawn from Bhutan’s civilian population was also another testimony.

The involvement of the Indian Army was limited to guarding its own side of the border and airlifting injured RBA soldiers.

The Indian media which seems to be suffering from a collective amnesia should go back to its own 2003 December news archives and see its own news reports on how Bhutanese forces led by the Fourth King had acted against the militants.

The Indian media is known for many good qualities, but it also many weaknesses and one of the biggest among them is in how it reports on its neighboring countries. Lazy ‘copy and paste’ or parrot like utterances takes precedence over ground reporting and even the most outrageous claims are not verified with foreign capitals or even foreign reporters.

It was not long ago that despite the sterling efforts of the Indian government in the Nepal quake the Indian media’s insensitive handling of the issue lead to twitter trends in Nepal asking the Indian media to leave Nepal.

Bhutan risked its King, its armed forces, its people and its own safety in 2003 so that we could honour or friendship with India by removing Indian militants from our soil. The least that the India media can do now is not to rewrite Bhutan’s history experienced by its own people. It should simply acknowledge the truth of Bhutan’s sacrifice. Lazy reporting, unhelpful jingoism and chest banging of mostly clueless male editors sitting comfortably in Delhi far away from Bhutan should not be allowed to overtake simple facts and a deep friendship.

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

 Mark Twain


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