Auspicious Beginning and End

Exactly 20 years ago, our Fourth King led on foot the small but valiant Bhutan’s armed forces. In two days (15-16 December 2003), three groups of Indian militants were successfully flushed out from Bhutan. Dubbed by some as “The Two-Day War,” the Low Intensity Conflict was also called, “Operation All Clear.”

The military operation was a demonstration of both strategic and tactical brilliance. Using a combination of guerilla warfare and conventional tactics, the overall strategy went against many established military doctrines. But it remained faithful to the Buddhist principles of non-aggression and restraint.   In employing this strategy, our Fourth King earned the title “The Buddhist Warrior.”

Ten days before, “The Two-Day War,” His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck visited the Punakha Dzong. This 17th century fortress, is a sacred place in Bhutan as it houses the remains of the country’s founder. It is traditional to begin and end important undertakings by offering prayers and gratitude to the machen or remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.

As the Dzong also serves as the winter residence of the Central Monastic Body, His Holiness the Je Khenpo or the head abbot resides in this sacred and architectural marvel.  On that day, when our Fourth King visited the dzong H.H. Trulku Jigme Chhoeda had no idea about the impending events.  After exchanging the usual pleasantries, he saw His Majesty off.

According to oral accounts, later, upon discovering the purpose of the visit, H.H. promptly made arrangements for the following day to bid His Majesty farewell. He hurriedly positioned himself along the route at a location called Pentsa, accompanied by Yab, the father of our Queens now Queen Mothers. The pair anxiously waited at the roadside to perform the customary prayers. In the Bhutanese smoke and cleansing ceremony, leaves from the Bhutan Cypress tree are burnt. The resulting smoke cleanses the environment and is regarded as an offering to the divine powers.

Our Bhutanese Kings personify benevolence. They shoulder the responsibility of ensuring the well-being of all their subjects at all times. When the country and the people are threatened, the King, as Supreme Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and the Militia, assumes the compassionate responsibility of the Supreme Protector to face and overcome the challenge.

Codenamed Hotel Mike, on 6 December, the Supreme Protector was on his way to the de-facto army headquarter set up in Southern Bhutan. Little did Hotel Mike realize what was in store.


Sight to Behold

Stories are told of how, after Hotel Mike’s car whizzed past Pentsa, the officer in the second car reported the presence of duo waiting by the road side. Initially, the report was dismissed.

However, after confirmation, the small convoy consisting of a Buddhist monk and a handful of bodyguards turned back. Sources close to H.H. said that when the Toyota Land Cruiser turned back, the sight was one to behold.

When Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel founded the state of Bhutan in the 17th century he, said that “Druk Tendrel Lu Nga Nye.” This simply means, Bhutan cherishes auspiciousness. Taking the return of His Majesty’s cavalcade as an auspicious omen, H.H. declared that he was confident that his monarch would be victorious in his mission and return back safely.

While this event has not been documented, stories are told that after offering long-life prayers, H.H. offered a small sacred statue to our Fourth King. He also removed the rosary from his hand and presented it to H.R.H. Dasho Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck who was accompanying his father. His Holiness. was the last to see His Majesty the Fourth King before the battle.

The three groups of Indian militants had illegally set up 30 camps in the thick forest of Southern Bhutan. After more than a decade of urging them to vacate their camps failed, Bhutan had no option but to resort to military action. However, on 13 December, a final public announcement was made warning that if the Indian militants did not dismantle their camps within the next 48 hours, armed conflict was inevitable. The militants did not heed the final warning. Left with no choice, Bhutan had to resort to armed operations to protect the security and sovereignty of the country. Gunfire was exchanged. Precious lives were lost on both sides but were few in number. Those militants that were wounded were treated by the medics in the field hospitals side by side with the Bhutanese. They were treated humanely and even shared the same food as the Bhutanese soldiers.

Stories are also told of how before the military operation, the statue had duetse or nectar dripping from it. This was seen as another good omen.  The war started on 15 December. It was over in 30 hours. Our Fourth King led his men on foot and in a synchronized surprise attack, all the 30 Indian militant camps in Southern Bhutan were dislodged. By all measures, “The Two-Day War,” was a grand success. Peace was restored in the country. The Indian militants empathized with us.  The fact that there were few casualties, no collateral damage nor any post-war repercussion are indicators of a successful operation.


Auspicious Ending

After tying up all loose ends, at the end of the month ‘The Buddhist Warrior,’ quietly slipped back to the capital. His Majesty made a brief stop at the Punakha Dzong to offer gratitude to Zhabdrung. His Holiness, who was leading the nationwide prayer session broke his month-long prayer retreat to meet the Supreme Protector.

Following His Majesty’s rejection of the cabinet’s proposal for a grand celebration and parade at the national stadium, the ministers timidly waited at the Dochula pass. At the very moment, the first snowfall of the season began. This made the moment even more special.

The very next day, His Majesty the Fourth King was at his office. This was long before anyone else began their day. Hundreds of his subjects were already outside the office. All had to come see their King in connection with their various personal problems.


Regretful Necessity

The only report of the war appeared in Kuensel, as an editorial, “It might seem a little odd to ask that there should be no hard feelings at the end of it all, but it is characteristic of Bhutan and the Bhutanese people that our overriding emotions even now are regret and empathy. When we assure the people of Assam and West Bengal of our continued friendship, it includes the Militants. Oddly enough, there has never been any animosity during the entire operation, only a feeling of regretful necessity. At the end of it all, the Bhutanese people will not celebrate victory but will express our sentiments in prayers.”

Instead of victory parades, Bhutanese people lit butter lamps in all the monasteries as an expression of repentance. Because the mind of a Buddhist warrior is developed to overcome uncontrolled aggression, he is neither arrogant nor conceited. He becomes humble and compassionate. He is not trapped by the pettiness of hope and fear. It is the use of these qualities that made Bhutan’s experience of resolving this conflict unique.


Contributed by

Tshering Tashi