Region: The Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicle agreement is being politicised, said Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay while answering a Desuup at the Tencholing Military Training Centre on September 12.

A Desuup trainee, Tashi Phuntsho, asked Lyonchoen if Bhutan will benefit with the motor vehicle agreement and what measures will be put in place to protect the  country’s pristine environment, culture, and people living in the border areas. He also questioned if any subsidies would be given to local truckers to compete with foreign truckers.

“Our interaction with the outside world is mainly with India. With Nepal our interaction is almost nothing and very little with Bangladesh,” Lyonchoen said. “The question is do we want to develop further interaction with these countries. To enhance our sovereignty I think we should develop further interaction with these countries,” he said. “This is not to say that we can’t interact bilaterally, one-on-one,” he added. But having a framework like the BBIN agreement, makes it easier, he pointed out.

For instance, talking about hydropower, Bangladesh, India and Bhutan together will now develop hydropower for the first time. Without BBIN it will be difficult, Lyonchoen said. For the country’s future it is better to engage with the neighbours, he added.

Those against the agreement have raised concerns that Bhutan will be flooded by vast numbers of vehicles from neighbouring countries. Lyonchoen said that he too does not want to see more vehicles enter the country. “This is because, although we have only 500 truckers, their business would be affected,” he said. “We met with the truckers and they were happy with our answers,” Lyonchoen said.

However, Lyonchoen pointed out that the issue is becoming politicised. “Even people who know, say that we would be swamped by foreign trucks. When people know that we have gone to great extents to explain that we want to keep the status quo.”

The status quo is that Nepalese and Bangladeshi trucks don’t have to come to Bhutan. With India, Bhutan has an informal agreement so that they don’t enter the country, Lyonchoen explained.

“We kept the status quo and the other three countries have accepted it, yet it is so politicised that for whatever reason, other people are going to the taxis and truckers saying, you guys are going to lose whatever work you have,” Lyonchoen said.

“But I would say it is not true, instead we are formalising something that would stop foreign vehicles from entering our border,” he said. “If we don’t go into Bangladesh and Nepal, their vehicles won’t come into our country, and it would be a signed agreement.”

However, with India it is different. Many Bhutanese vehicles have to travel through India. “BBIN becomes an important opportunity for us to sit, talk and clarify through a legally binding agreement on what number of vehicles are allowed to come in or drive through India and many more,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lyonchoen also pointed out the motor vehicle agreement is important because Bhutan wants to work with India and Bangladesh to establish a second link to the internet through cox’s bazaar in Bangladesh. He also said that BBIN is important because Bhutan wants to work with India and Bangladesh to develop the Rothpashong hydropower project so that the country can sell electricity to Bangladesh through India. “Maybe we can work with India and Nepal to sell electricity to Nepal,” he added.

Working together, the region connectively would be more prosperous, he said. “As far as we are concerned we want to further strengthen the sovereignty of Bhutan.”

Unfortunately, Lyonchoen said that the issue is being politicised but that it is a fact of democracy. Everybody will pretend that they are giving the best advice and saying the best things, but one must look beyond that to see whether it is political or not, Lyonchoen said.

Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue