A year since the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal motor vehicle agreement was signed and the multilateral agreement still draws different reactions from various sections of the society.
While the government is pushing for it, it is also drawing a lot of flak from the Opposition and Bhutanese truckers even put up a petition to the Prime Minister sometime back stating their grievances.
While the debate continues as to whether Bhutan should ratify the agreement or not, the bigger question seems to be: do we as a country or as part of a bigger sub-regional geo-political body need it?
Let’s do the math: Bhutanese truckers and cabbies feel that allowing vehicles from Bangladesh and Nepal will eat into their business. They feel it would be unsustainable for them if passenger vehicles outside start making trips into Bhutan.
They are also unsure what could be the ramifications of chartering out into unexplored neighboring territories apart from the ones they are already familiar with including India.
The Opposition has also raised issues like impact on environment, cultural dilution, and increased crime rate as possible side effects of the BBIN agreement.
Considering all this, it would seem like Bhutan will be digging its own grave by ratifying the agreement, but the nature of the BBIN agreement is more complicated than meets the eye.
The government has said that it is trying to agree upon the protocols of the motor vehicular agreement which would tilt the scales more or less in the country’s favor.
It has defended the BBIN saying that not only would it facilitate right of way for Bhutanese but also negotiations are on whereby vehicles from Nepal and Bangladesh would not be able to enter the country but stop at the border or the number of vehicles even if they do enter would be limited to a certain number.
Notwithstanding the BBIN protocol which is still being discussed, is it the right time for Bhutan to be part of this agreement seeing that it stands to gain through trade if free vehicular movement would facilitate this?
Right now, our major trade partner is India, and Bhutan shares borders with it. Meanwhile, Bangladesh is keen on investing in hydropower from Bhutan so are our policy makers looking at the larger picture seeing that transmission lines between Bhutan and Bangladesh would have to be routed through India?
The same would apply for Nepal in the event of a major transaction. Maybe, it is inevitable for any country to be part of a larger network of regional bodies or sub-bodies.
Some mention the European Union as an instance of the success enjoyed through multilateral trade and vehicular movement.
Should Bhutan move ahead with the agreement? Collective wisdom and discretion should be exercised before deciding and this means it should not throw precautions to air.
The pros and cons of the decision should be weighed carefully and then be thrown open for public debate and discussion. Opinions from every quarter should be given a hearing and only when a well rounded picture of the whole deal materializes should a decision be given the seal of approval.