Bhutan is negotiating a new era of history, so we think hard and reflect deeply on what it means. For a society that has had it good, it is no surprise that we feel the pressure of transformation. It is understandable that some of us are shaken and anxious, but we have reason to be optimistic and excited. The perception of change is beginning to dawn on us, sometimes in flashes, sometimes more gradually.
This month, a UN Peacekeeping Contingent of 180 Bhutanese soldiers leaves for the Central African Republic, a region torn by war, instability, poverty, and other human distress. This is a “light quick reaction team” in the service of the UN, a Bhutanese force trained to respond quickly in the fast pace of conflict. More than that, it is another stride in Bhutan’s growth process.
In a Royal address to the UN contingent, His Majesty The King emphasised the nobility of serving the world as a Blue Beret and the honour of representing Bhutan as a soldier answering the call of duty. This takes us beyond the perception among many people, including Bhutanese, that soldiers from developing countries become UN peacekeepers only for the international salaries that they do not get back home. Even some governments see military action as a source in income.
The real essence of the Royal message is that our society, as a whole, must shift to a new mindset. Bhutanese soldiers take on an international assignment in perilous faraway places. Bhutan has the mandate of becoming a successful nation in the comity of nations. This is a powerful reminder that we must shed the psyche of being a developing country dependent on international aid.
Many of us are yet to grasp the broader realities and challenges of the new era unfolding before us today. Bhutan’s transformation is no longer just an aspiration. We are committed to a vision that specifies the critical need to reform government and citizens – the need to restructure the bureaucracy, revolutionise the education policy, build a 21st century economy, professionalise the legal system, and initiate other momentous endeavours in all areas of Bhutanese life.
There are many of us today who ask what has become rhetorical question. We see before us an exciting vision unfurling but can we implement it? The real question should be why can’t we, after six decades of modernisation, the exposure, education, and skills, and resources from both within and from outside? As His Majesty himself has reminded us, time and again, we must draw on the values and resilience that have kept us surviving and thriving.
True change means discarding old mindsets and adopting new ways; we are realising that this is not easy. It requires clarity, discipline, stamina, and sacrifice. Having attained maturity as a society, and as a nation, we assume the responsibilities with urgency and total commitment. As a democracy with sovereign prerogatives, we move with the 21st century nation or we get left behind.
His Majesty The King has spoken for every Bhutanese in every corner of the country and soldiers and citizens living and serving abroad. We will not rest as we continue to chart the path to a strong and prosperous nation. The task before us is that we achieve all our aspirations, not in some distant future, but in the next few years. There is no other option.