A Land Apart

De­spite di­ver­si­fy­ing its for­eign re­la­tions, Bhutan, un­like other South Asian coun­tries, con­tin­ues to strictly main­tain its rich cul­ture, lan­guage and cus­toms.

Southasia - - Culture - By Fa­tima Si­raj

Sit­u­ated del­i­cately on the slopes of the Hi­malayas, moun­tain­ous Bhutan is land-locked be­tween In­dia on the south and west and Ti­bet on the north and east, mak­ing it South Asia’s most ge­o­graph­i­cally iso­lated na­tion. Un­til the 1960s, this fac­tor con­trib­uted to its po­lit­i­cal iso­la­tion from the rest of the world. How­ever, af­ter China’s in­va­sion of Ti­bet, Bhutan de­cided to ex­pand its for­eign re­la­tions and avoid Ti­bet’s fate by strength­en­ing its ties with neigh­bor­ing In­dia. In­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture and link­ages to In­dia fur­ther im­proved this newly formed re­la­tion­ship and by 1985 Bhutan had es­tab­lished its first diplo­matic links with non-Asian coun­tries.

Cur­rently, along with be­ing an ac­tive mem­ber of SAARC, Bhutan main­tains diplo­matic re­la­tions with nine other Asian nations and ten Euro­pean nations, which form the ‘Friends of Bhutan Group.’ These in­clude the Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries, Spain and Switzer­land and Ja­pan. All these nations con­trib­ute to­wards de­vel­op­ment projects in Bhutan. How­ever, the Bhutanese main­tain strict con­trol over the projects and in­ter­na­tional con­sul­tants hold no de­ci­sion-mak­ing power. There­fore, it is com­mon for de­vel­op­ment projects, even from pow­er­ful in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions, to be ejected (or halted af­ter im­ple­men­ta­tion) be­cause of po­ten­tial neg­a­tive in­ter­fer­ence. This con­trol of­ten pre­vents in­te­gral de­vel­op­ment from be­ing un­der­taken on a large scale by in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Bhutan’s cat­e­go­riza­tion as a least de­vel­oped na­tion (LDC) by the U.N does not bother the con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy too much. This is be­cause its main de­vel­op­ment in­di­ca­tor is not the com­mon GDP bench­mark used world­wide but rather a fac­tor called Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness (GNH); a term coined by the visionary for­mer King, Jigme Signye Wangchuck, in the late 1980s. The achieve­ment of this unique ob­jec­tive of na­tional hap­pi­ness is based upon the four guid­ing prin­ci­ples of good gov­er­nance, preser­va­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment, eco­nomic self-re­liance and cul­tural preser­va­tion. These prin­ci­ples take their roots in Bhutan’s strong Bud­dhist iden­tity and its long pe­riod of iso­la­tion­ism be­fore mod­ern­iza­tion was un­der­taken in the 1960s.

De­spite at­tempt­ing to build bet­ter for­eign re­la­tions with other coun­tries, Bhutan has shied away from be­ing cul­tur­ally in­flu­enced. Far re­moved from the cos­mopoli­tan na­ture of many Asian coun­tries to­day, Bhutan has suc­cess­fully re­tained its na­tive cul­ture and iden­tity. The preser­va­tion of Bhutanese tradition and cul­ture is pop­u­larly known as Driglam­namza: a dis­tinct man­ner and eti­quette that

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