As far as first impression goes, the Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, V.P Haran is most pleased with ‘the beautiful place and its warm and friendly people’ but he intends to do more than just that. First off on his roster is to strengthen the bond between India and Bhutan.
“Indo-Bhutan relations date back in history. There’s a solid foundation for this relation as mutuality of interest. And the relations are very warm and friendly, so it’s something I would seek to build on because, after all it may be warm and friendly, but we need to keep it that way. So, that will be my effort,” he said.
The Indian Ambassador said “we need to work on some of the issues on which there is mutual interest, like for example, Bhutan is been concentrating on the socio-economic sector. Your priorities to provide electricity, water, health care, education etc. in rural areas”.
India had worked with the government of Bhutan to see how best it could be progressed. Second on priority is therefore the hydroelectric project. “These are mega projects and these are economic cooperation projects,” said Mr. V.P Haran.
“Its asset is going to be built in Bhutan and we will be buying the output of that asset. It’s a very major thing and we are confident it will continue quite a bit to the Bhutanese economy,” he added.
The Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid who visited Bhutan recently talked about India and Bhutan becoming economic partners and the need to take the bilateral relationship beyond the development partnership that currently exists between the two.
On that, the Indian Ambassador said “what he meant is that, right now both are going on, economic cooperation projects as well as development cooperation. And the development cooperation will come, our assistance on various projects, like many small development projects, road building projects, education, health etc.”
“And whereas the hydro electric projects, the government economic cooperation project, my minister (foreign minister Khurshid) had said we should go beyond development cooperation projects to economic cooperation because that would be mutually beneficial. It’s not just a question of one person benefitting and not the other,” he said.
The economic cooperation would lay the foundation for a much stronger relationship between the two countries.
His Majesty the King invited as Chief Guest for Republic Day celebrations in India
Ambassador V.P Haran said the king being invited as the chief guest for the republic day is a reflection of the very close relations that exists between the two countries.
“It’s also a fact that He has contributed a lot to strengthening relations between India and Bhutan,” he said. “I think it is in this context that the king has been invited to be the chief guest on the Republic Day of India.”
Bhutan’s 11th Five Year Plan
Asked about the Indian government’s level of assistance in Bhutan’s 11th Five Year Plan the ambassador said he is aware of the highlights of the plan.
“But we need to know from the Bhutanese government, what are the focus areas, what are the important areas that they are focusing on in the 11th plan, what the outlay is etc. before we can say something about the level of assistance from us for the 11th Plan,” he said.
Ambassador V.P Haran said we have conveyed that we will be supportive of Bhutan’s development efforts. So we look forward to receiving from Bhutan what the priorities are in the 11th plan, what the outlay is and what the areas in which they need cooperation from India.
“So once we get it, we’ll be able to make up our mind on the level of assistance in consultations with the Bhutanese government,” he said.
About Bhutan’s UNSC bid
“There’s a famous saying that failure is the stepping stone to success,” said the Indian Ambassador of Bhutan’s attempt at a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council.
“It requires a lot of effort. It requires a lot of networking etc. Bhutan tried its level best but it didn’t succeed. Hopefully in the future with better preparatory works you may be able to,” he said.
He said it is the first time since Bhutan became a member of the UN in 1971 that it has contested for UNSC non-permanent seat.
On the situation that Bhutan may have failed the UNSC bid because it didn’t have enough ‘relations’ in the international sphere, V.P Haran said “You can’t say that because, after all you have relations with 49 countries”.
On the premise that Bhutan had seniority over the contesting member countries (Korea and Cambodia) for the UNSC seat, and yet the UN body seemingly did not follow this rule or procedure.
“The UN system does not work that way,” said Ambassador V.P Haran.
He said it’s a very, very difficult election. In certain other continents there are regional groupings which put forward a candidate and that candidate is accepted by the rest of the world community and generally gets selected.
“In Asia we don’t have that sort of arrangement, so each country had to put forward its candidate and work for it. I think that is what Bhutan did,” he said.
During the UNSC elections last year in October the two other countries competing for the UNSC seat with Bhutan were South Korea and Cambodia
South Korea and Cambodia are nations which have diplomatic relations with almost every country. And an added benefit for South Korea lies in its most conspicuously granted assistance to many nations which totals to a tune of almost US$ 5bn.
Asked his opinion if Korea had won the elections based only on that, Mr. V.P Haran said “I would not go to that extent. Of course there are various considerations that go into decision making of countries, on whom to support. So, this could be one of the reasons, but to say that it is the sole reason may not be correct.”
On the cross border kidnapping issues in Southern Bhutan
“Yes it’s a little troubling, particularly the reason because it happened…,” said V.P Haran.
At the same time he assured that it not go unchecked.
He said there are in fact existing mechanisms to these border issues. One is at the home secretary level.
“Our home secretary and your home secretary, deals with these issues periodically. And we also have a mechanism where the state governments are involved. That’s a separate process because they are actually the ones physically present in the ground so there’s a separate mechanism of discussion with them, so as to improve border management,” he said.
“Obviously, in a sense, events are happening; the focus attention is needed on border management. I’m sure it will happen. I don’t think that it is something one needs to be unduly concerned about. Yes, there are concerns but both the governments are aware of it; both the governments are committed to addressing issue.”
On Bhutan expanding its diplomatic ties
Bhutan had made news last year on its foreign policy front, and one such instance was to do with the meeting of the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley on the sidelines of the Rio summit in June, 2012.
This was speculated by many foreign Medias as a possible establishment of formal diplomatic ties between China and Bhutan. It was reported as an unlikely move for Bhutan to be making given the carefully calibrated Indo-Bhutan relations.
“Its Bhutan’s choice, its Bhutan’s sovereign decision, so I don’t think there is necessity for me to comment,” said V.P Haran on the subject.
Assessment on progress of 10,000 MW projects
Currently, three giant hydro projects are under implementation – Punatsangchu I, Punatsangchu II and Mangdechu. And 10 projects have been identified, which if implemented, the total capacity would exceed 10,000 MW.
“Out of the 10, three are under implementation. Four more, they have decided on the modalities,” Mr. V.P Haran said.
They most probably will be on a joint venture basis or something, he said. And the last set of three, it’s still being looked-at, “and most probably it will be on a government-to-government basis. But the final decision, it’s in the process of being taken,” he added.
Mr. V.P Haran said the projects and implementation will come on-stream, will start producing electricity by 2016-2017. “Which I would say, will be a welcome development.”
On the status of the other projects, he said “some work has been done, some DPRs have been made etc. but we need to move forward than that”.
He was positive, that the two governments will get together to see how to “move it forward, fast”.
Indian Ambassador V.P Haran
Ambassador V.P Haran served as the Indian Ambassador to Syria (2009-2012) before he came to Bhutan this January as the Ambassador to Bhutan.
Mr. V.P Haran joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1980 and served as Deputy Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Permanent Mission of India in Geneva, and Deputy Chief of Mission in the Embassy of India in Kathmandu.
Interests n hobbies
“They’ve kept on changing. Generally I read a lot, all sorts of things – magazines, newspapers etc. When I say ‘newspapers’ – much beyond what a person generally does,” said Ambassador V.P Haran.
Asked about any plans for his own publications, Mr. V.P Haran said, “So long as one is in government service one’s hands are full”.