Things better, but we’ve got to keep eyes open, powder dry

Though the year gone by was relatively peaceful for India, the security environment in India’s regional neighbourhood has been steadily deteriorating. The greatest causes of regional instability are the strident march of Islamist fundamentalism across the Af-Pak border and the unresolved conflict in Afghanistan. In fact, the scourge of Talibanisation is creeping forward gradually and threatens to cross the Radcliff Line into India if it goes unchecked.
The unstable security situation in Afghanistan continues to be worrisome. The US-led NATO-ISAF troops will soon begin their planned withdrawal even though the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are as yet incapable of taking over independent charge of security, particularly in the districts which are strongholds of the Taliban. The ANSF are too few in number – only 200,000 army and police personnel have been trained so far. They are inadequately trained and ill-equipped and lack the standards of junior leadership that are critical for success in intense counter-insurgency operations. 
Since the elimination of Osama bin Laden, the precarious relationship between the Pakistan army and the ISI and their US counterparts – ostensibly major allies in the war against terrorism – has weakened further. The killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers during the bombardment of a border post by NATO-ISAF aircraft in November outraged Pakistan and led to the decision to stop the flow of logistics convoys through Quetta and Peshawar, deny base facilities at Shamsi and demand re-negotiation of the rules of engagement. The worst fallout has been the politico-military standoff within Pakistan that threatens the continuation in office of the fledgling civilian government.
Marked reduction in the levels of infiltration across the LoC into Kashmir over the last few years and the fact that no major terrorist strike has been initiated by ISI-backed organisations like the LeT and JeM since 26/11, convinced India to resume the stalled rapprochement process. However, the two armies continue to face off eyeball-to-eyeball on the LoC and at the Saltoro Ridge west of Siachen Glacier and a small incident could bring the informal cease-fire to an abrupt end. Toning down of the anti-India rhetoric and terrorist strikes is a tactical ploy to tide over internal difficulties, rather than a long-term change in the military strategy designed to bleed India through a thousand cuts. The Pakistan army and the ISI are keeping the machinery for terrorist strikes well oiled so that they can raise the ante in a short time frame whenever they choose to do so.
The Chinese have been aggressively opposing even a non-military Indian presence aimed at prospecting for oil and gas in the South China Sea while themselves seeking naval bases in the Indian Ocean. Chinese scholars have expressed strong reservations against India’s quest to reach out strategically to democracies in East Asia. They have denounced multilateral (Australia, India, Japan and US) naval exercises aimed at enhancing maritime cooperation in the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean as being aimed at the strategic encirclement of China. 
The Chinese abruptly postponed the 15th round of boundary talks between the special representatives in November 2011 as India refused to relent on the Dalai Lama’s participation in a private conference on Buddhism. Chinese diplomatic, political and military assertiveness at the tactical level is likely to continue into 2012 and beyond. However, at the strategic level the relationship will remain stable.
The government of Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh has reversed decades old anti-India policies and has begun to cooperate with India in rooting out insurgent groups operating against from its soil. The resolution of the boundary dispute is now being addressed in a friendly manner. Iran’s continuing quest to obtain nuclear weapons may lead to a standoff with the US in the Strait of Hormuz if Iran blocks the flow of oil. India’s relations with Myanmar’s relatively more open Thein Sein regime have been improving steadily, resulting in better security cooperation. However, the Myanmarese government is struggling to bring the Kachin, Karen and Shan insurgencies under control. 
Despite many extensions in the deadline, Nepal has failed to frame a new constitution or find an amicable solution to the integration of former Maoist cadres in the army. With the increasingly pervasive Chinese presence in Nepal, resentment against India is growing. Even though the Sri Lankan government has made little effort to successfully address the decades old aspiration of the Tamil people for ‘eelam’, the country has remained free of violent conflict. 
The internal security situation in India has shown significant improvement. The army and other security forces have gained ascendancy in Kashmir and the number of incidents of violence has declined sharply. Insurgencies in north-east India have begun to recede and negotiations to resolve the crises are making progress. The areas worst affected by Naxalite or left wing extremism have been fairly quiet and the central police organisations are gradually gaining ground.
Concerted political, diplomatic and military efforts must continue to resolve outstanding disputes and better manage the manifold threats and challenges to national security. The armed forces and the central police and para-military forces must keep their eyes open and their powder dry.
The writer is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.