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Bhutan - Introduction

Bhutan and Nepal are mountainous buffer states between India and China. Both are aligned with India, but face growing Chinese influcence. But they are different. With a population of some 30 million, Nepal dwarfs Bhutan, which has a population of possibly not much more than half a million. Nepal's monarchy was abolished in 2008, while Bhutan's monarchy both reigns and rules. Most importantly, Bhutan is a dot of Buddhism surrounded by a sea of Hinduism.

Bhutan, a mountainous remote country called Druk Yul in Bhutanese (Land of the Thunder Dragon), has little contact with the outside world. Bhutan is the world's last Buddhist kingdom. Bhutan, wedged between India and China in the eastern Himalayas, is a mainly Buddhist nation of about 750,000 people. It is one of the world's last absolute monarchies, dating from the 8th century, and has close military and diplomatic ties to Delhi.

Bhutan is a small, land-locked country with few national resources aside from hydropower. Latent ethnic tensions, the lack of modern infrastructure and a small domestic market add to unfavorable structural conditions for successful transformation. Although the government places a heavy influence on the preservation of its Tibetan Buddhist culture, Bhutan is slowly emerging from self imposed international isolation and is in the process of evolving into a constitutional monarchy with a representative government.

Locally, Bhutan is called Druk-yul and the people are Druk-pa. Bhutan is the last surviving kingdom of Himalayan Buddhist culture, and most Bhutanese belong to either the Druk-pa Ka-gyu or the Nying-ma-pa school of Mahayana Buddhism. Historically, Bhutan was known by many names, such as 'Lho Mon' (Southern Land of Darkness), 'Lho Tsen-den Jong' (Southern Land of the Sandalwood), 'Lhomen Kha Zhi (Southern Land of Four Approaches), and 'Lho Men Jong' (Southern Land of Medicinal Herbs).

The small and landlocked country with a population of about 646,851 (2006) people is situated on the southern slopes of the Eastern Himalayas, between India and China. The official language is Dzong-kha but English is increasingly common. Thimphu is the capital and largest city.

King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck is very popular with the people. When King Wangchuk came to power in 1972, he announced that government policies would be based on the pursuit of high ``Gross National Happiness'' rather than the conventional Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The concept of GNH is based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other.

Since the King's 1972 announcement, the government has focused on what it calls the ``four pillars'' of GNH (socio-economic growth, cultural values, environmental conservation and good governance) to guide the country's development plans. For example, the government mandates that a minimum of 60 percent of its land be covered in forest and instituted policies meant to encourage only high-scale environmentally conscientious tourists to visit. The 2005 national census found that 45.2 percent of Bhutanese are ``very happy,'' 51.6 percent are ``happy,'' and only 3.3 percent are ``not very happy.''

The Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) is responsible for internal security. The Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) is responsible for defending against external threats but also has responsibility for some internal security functions, including counterinsurgency operations, guarding forests, and providing security for prominent persons. The RBP reports to the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, and the king is the supreme commander in chief of the RBA.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the army and police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year. The army and police have procedures to conduct internal investigations of alleged personnel misconduct. Official courts of inquiry adjudicate the allegations. The king or a senior official makes the final determination on the outcome of a case.

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