A standing army is a symbol of sovereignty. Pazap, a form of militia was a part of our heritage. In the past, Bhutan has successfully repelled successive invasions from Tibet and by the British from India. The Duars wars were fought valiantly led by Gongsa Jigme Namgyel himself.
The Army of Bhutan transitioned to a modern army from 1927 by sending two educated boys for training in India under the second King. The Defense Force heroically defended the nation from external threats and internal rebellion and insurgence.
In the field of military, Bhutan gained confidence and adulation from outside. His Majesty applied minimum military force to maximum tactical and strategic effect and conducted an immensely successful campaign in southern Bhutan when the security of the nation faced a grave danger. Military strategies and civilities of the Bhutanese Army were recorded and demonstrated.
His Majesty commanded that:
“Today, we look back and see that the army has served the nation at all times in our history. In times of peace, there have been threats to the lives and property of our people from floods, fires and other natural disasters. In such circumstances the people have looked to the army and the armed forces have served the people. When there were threats to nation’s security and sovereignty – for example, in 2003, when we faced the greatest threat in our history – His Majesty the 4th Druk Gyalpo led our armed forces and defended our very sovereignty… This sacred duty to preserve our security and sovereignty falls on all of us as Bhutanese, yet it is most important that the armed forces above all must serve without failure … To be a true soldier, one must live according to the following principle: I will live a life of honesty and integrity. Courage, loyalty and strength shall be my true weapons. I shall defend with my body – even my life – the security and sovereignty of my country and people. My one and only duty – my sacred duty – is to serve the Tsawasum. I am a soldier of the Pelden Drukpa.” 183
Their Majesties opined that:
(a) I want to inform all as we are gathered here that we are trying to reduce the number of uniformed people in defence as much as possible. Today, there are about 10,000 defence personnel. Hereafter, as Pazaps in the past, we would encourage militia. If possible, it would be good if we could train as many as 20,000 people. When I say good, I don’t mean to keep this 20,000 people on a full time duty. They will be trained for at least one month to one and a half month in combat and will be given arms then they will be sent back to their respective places. For those who are studying, they will have to complete 18 years and they will be trained in the winter during their holiday. For the business community and the civil servants, and the people from the villages they will be trained whenever, it is convenient. The military training to the people would be highly beneficial to the country. In 2003, we had big difficulty because our 10,000 security personnel were not enough. You all might not know that for a small country, 10,000 army personnel is a big number. The 10,000 odd security personnel are not enough in the time of danger to the country. But, at the moment, when there is no security danger from anywhere, be it from the north or south, 2,000 personnel has been retrenched for which I have already sent the Kasho to the Army Headquarters. It is very expensive on the Government exchequer to maintain a big number of army personnel. For that reason we have to reduce the number drastically and we are going to reduce the wings too. Our country is a small country, compared to our neighbours. Their population runs into millions. In Bhutan, otherwise, there is no need for the army. There are people from the villages, people from the business community, people from the civil service, and from all strata, who say that we don’t have to fight battles. But that is not true, there would be times, when the country will face security problems. And when the security problems arise, the burden is on the Bhutanese people to defend the sovereignty of the country. At the moment, we are trying to reduce the number of the army, but we will train at the least 20,000 people as militia. And if possible we will try to train more than that. 184
(b) When we are all altogether, if I may mention as an information to you, we are trying to reduce the number of military personnel as much as possible. Today, there are about 10,000 personnel in the defence. Hereafter, possibly by next year, we would like to strengthen the militia. As in the past, we would like to reintroduce the Pazap system. Therefore, if it is possible, we would like to train about 20,000 people and keep them in reserve. We will not keep them for years and years, but train them for about a month in a year by our army and send them back to their villages. Whenever there is any security threat to our country, they will be summoned. I think that this will be very good for the country.
If we follow the present system, when there is security problem the 10,000 defense personnel are not adequate and we face lots of difficulties. At this juncture when we have no security problems and with 10,000, regular army, we have excess defense personnel and wings. But if at any time in the future there arises any security threats, 10,000, army will never be enough. As such, we have to train at least 20,000 as militia. In the past, when I took over the throne, many senior officials told me that there was no need to establish army in a small country and that we are a very small country surrounded by giant countries like China in the North and India in the South and that we will not have war with them. But what they said was not true because if we had no army, then we would have faced grave sovereignty and security problems in situations like in 1990 and 2003. Therefore, with the change in time, even if we are a small country and even if our neighboring countries are very big, it is very important for every Bhutanese citizen to safeguard and protect the sovereignty and security of the country more than their own lives. Therefore, we will reduce both the strength and the wings of the army, but once we introduce the militia system, we will have about 20,000, militia. This is for your information.185
(c) My expectation is to have 20,000 militia comprising of men between 18 and 40 years of age. The RBA would impart training to these militia men for a duration of one month and then allow them to go back home to carry out their routine work. They would not be recruited as permanent soldiers. If such system is adopted, our country would benefit at the times of need in the country. We would have enough people to safeguard the security and sovereignty of the country when problems of security arise in the country. For instance, in 2003 we had very tough time for not having enough soldiers. We had around 10,000 soldiers only even after having combined all three branches of armed forces and voluntary militia. We wished we had about 20,000 soldiers instead of 10,000 during that time. For example, today, after about two years of subduing the security problems in the country, we have an excess of 10,000 soldiers. This strength of soldiers should be reduced to the minimum possible. We are planning to reduce the wings too. In the past, most of the people from outside and inside, including the senior Government officials and common citizens felt that it was not justified to have standing army for a landlocked and small country like Bhutan, when we have two powerful countries, China in the north and India in the south. That was 30 years ago. But everybody knows that it has proven wrong during our own lifetime. If we did not have standing army in our country in 1990 and 2003, the country was in great danger of being in some other hands. Even though Bhutan is a very small and landlocked country, sandwiched between the two giant nations. Each and every citizen is required to take the responsibility of safeguarding the security of the country, both in words and action. Therefore, it is felt that some training is required to make people effective and efficient. In future, we will reduce the standing army to the minimum number possible and then increase the militia force. 186
(d) From the defense side, the number of armed forces will be reduced to the minimum extent possible. Today, Royal Bhutan Army has more than ten thousand soldiers. Henceforth, like traditional pazap in past, we will keep around twenty thousand militia forces after providing training. For example in 2003, when the country was under a threat, we faced lots of problem of inadequate soldiers. With ten thousand soldiers, it becomes very difficult, when there is threat of security. Now two years later, i.e. today, there is no threat to security and when we have ten thousand soldiers, it is in excess. Therefore, if we keep the number of army at same level, then the Government will face acute financial problems on one hand, on the other, if we decrease the number of army and if problem arises, then we will be in difficult situation. Thus, during our time we have faced two times security threats. So, our country being small and landlocked, there is no need for standing army. We cannot win a war with anybody as pointed out and commented by many, even the public, officials and foreigners. Such things are not at all true. Thus, it is very important and it is the duty of every one to maintain our independence and security of our nation in all times to come. So, this is the main purpose for stressing the need of militia force in our Constitution.187
(e) If I tell you as information regarding the defense recently H.M. has mentioned that the number of standing army shall be reduced as we have no security problems now. But as usual, H.M has commanded time and again that we the people should be taking care of the sovereignty and security of our country as we reduce the strength of our army. H.M also commanded that the system of militia should be introduced as we reduce the number of our standing army. When we say militia army we are going to train all the private people, civil servants, school going boys and girls above fifteen and even the villagers. Our own armed force will train the use of arms and ammunitions to the groups. The training is not going to be for months and years. It is going to be for one month at a time for students above the age of 18 years during their vacation, for the people in the village when they have less agricultural works to do. For civil servants, when they can find time. Then the strength of our militia is not going to be seven hundred to eight hundred but we are going to increase it up to 20 to 30 thousand. And in future, we will go on increasing the number to 40 to 50 thousand with the increase in population. We all know in the year 2003 how our country faced serious threat on our sovereignty and security. That time we hardly had 10 thousand comprising of three forces. That time while we were solving the problem we had to worry as we had the shortage of soldiers and population. Yet led by our H.M the three forces had served the country very well by sacrificing even their lives. We could solve the problem as even the public had provided strong support to our forces. At present we have no security threat. That is why H.M has commanded to reduce the strength of our army. But if we have huge numbers of militia armies in future we will be able to take good care of our country’s sovereignty and security. But militia need not train for long duration. Training for one month in a year should make our people to be able to handle the weapons and come out to protect and support our country should there be need in future. The farmers, civil servants and the students will have to leave behind their work and come forward to serve the country. That is why H.M has commanded that in future we should start with the system of public authority. 188
The wheel of justice starts turning in the Kingdom of Bhutan with the Royal Bhutan Police. When police are seen to respect, uphold and defend rights, and protect the weak, you gain public confidence. Consequently, you contribute to peaceful resolution of conflicts and complaints, which contribute to a fair administration of Justice. The Police has an important role to play for peace, justice, and tranquility of our society. Therefore, on September 1, 1965, His Late Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck commissioned the police organization and named it “Royal Bhutan Police”. From 1966, regular recruitment and training started at Dradul Makhang in Thimphu. The Dradul Makhang was changed to Zhilen Namgyelling. By 1974, many Bhutanese police officers had received training in various reputed institutions like Indian National Police Academy, Police Training College and Central Detective Training School, etc. and in 1975, the first batch of Bhutanese-trained recruits passed-out from the training centre. With ongoing professional knowledge, technical competence, operational skill, the Police must continue the work that they began in 1965 to protect and preserve peace, tranquillity and for a just and lasting peace among ourselves through honest and hard work and be impartial, honest, fair, polite, fearless and imbued with spirit of service.
Military exhibits higher and noble human spirit. Their unquestioning obedience, burning patriotism, fearless courage and sacrifice are as described by Napoleon Bonarparte “The army is the true nobility of our country.” Military is not only for the defence of its people. Their history and impact have shaped the nation and its social, cultural, political and geo-political spheres. Their indirect benefits are the logistics, leadership, management, technology, strategy, tactics and management to alleviate human sufferings and scientific, technological advancement and information revolution. The defense forces are the strengths of Bhutan to preserve and protect peace and the rule of law.
Contributed by Sonam Tobgye, Thrimchi Lyonpo
To be continued
183 ARMY RAISING DAY: Supreme Commander of the Royal Bhutan Armed Forces, His Majesty the King in 2009.
184 Public consultation in Thimphu on 26/10/2005.
185 Public consultation in Haa on 2/11/2005.
186 Public consultation in Paro on 9/11/2005.
187 Public consultation in Punakha on 27/11/2005.
189 Public consultation in Tashiyangtse on 28/12/2005.