Indias unstable environs

India's regional security environment continues to remain unstable. Marked by the collusive nuclear weapons-cum-missile development programme of China, North Korea and Pakistan, the strident march of Islamist fundamentalism, the diabolical nexus between narcotics trafficking and terrorism, the proliferation of small arms, the uncertainty inherent in the rule of despotic regimes and a host of other vitiating factors, regional instability remains a cause for serious concern. 

The year 2006 was marked by the unexpected resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan's unsuccessful ongoing struggle against the remnants of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, particularly in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The fissiparous tendencies emerging in Balochistan and Pakhtoonkhwa and the rise of Jihadi Islam, just when Pakistan's gradual slide towards becoming a 'failed state' was at last being arrested and limited economic gains had accrued in the last two to three years, do not augur well for that country's future. 

Sri Lanka's continued involvement in the vicious Tamil insurgency and its inability to find a lasting solution to the conflict in the northeast is slowing down its economic recovery. The uneasy truce between Government forces and the LTTE appears to have broken down irretrievably and incidents of violence are growing by the day. Bangladesh is gradually but perceptibly emerging as the new hub of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism. Its struggle for economic upliftment to bare subsistence levels is being hampered by deeply divisive politics and poor governance. 

Nepal's fledgling democracy, shaky at the best of times, had been further undermined by a palace coup led by the King himself on February 1, 2005. A spontaneous people's revolution in April 2006 restored Parliament and led to a rapprochement with the Maoist leaders and an agreement on a new Constitution. Simmering discontent and low-key opposition to China's repressive regime continue in Tibet. The military regime in power in Myanmar still shows no signs of acknowledging the people's nascent movement for democracy.

Partly because Pakistan is becoming rather hot for international terrorist groups to use as a base and partly because the Government of Bangladesh has helplessly stood by and ignored a growing Islamist influence, if not supported and abetted by it actively, Bangladesh is quickly singing deeper and deeper into the morass of fundamentalist Islamist terrorism. It has also been willy-nilly providing safe havens to Indian terrorist groups despite India's exhortations to desist from such unneighbourly acts.

There has been an almost unending influx of migrants from Bangladesh into India's northeastern states over several decades. This has upset the demographic balance and led to tensions in the region. Clashes between India's Border Security Force (BSF) and the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) has been fairly frequent. In case the situation inside Bangladesh spins out of control and refugees once again pour into India, military intervention may again need to be considered. 

The continuing civil strife in Afghanistan despite Western intervention poses perhaps the most serious threat to peace and stability in the Southern Asian region. When the al Qaeda struck in the US on September 11,2001, the Pakistan supported and equipped Taliban militia had consolidated its hold over large parts of Afghan territory, Ahmed Shah Masood's Pushtun fighters were holding out in the Panjshir Valley though Masood had been assassinated, Abdul Rashid Dostum's Northern Alliance, propped up by tacit support from Uzebkistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan and by the physical presence of approximately 20,000 Russian troops north of Afghanistan's border, could have still influenced the final miliary outcome in Afghanistan and Iran had not withdrawn all the troops that if had massed along its eastern border with Afghanistan in 1998-99. 

The most urgent international issue in Afghanistan prior to September 11, 2001 was Pakistan's continued, visibly overt military support to the Taliban militia and the unprecedented covert support that it was providing to prop up and perpetuate a fundamentalist and fanatical Islamist regime. If the Taliban experiment had been allowed to succeed, the virulence of Islamist fundamentalism would have soon reverberated all over the Southern Asian region, including the Central Asian Republics (CARs). Though the cruel and repressive Taliban military was disbanded and the popularly elected Karzai regime installed in power, the US and its coalition forces are still only partly in control of the security situation in Afghanistan .

The new regime's writ runs only in Kabul and the surrounding areas. Pakistan is once again suspected to be providing material support to the Taliban and this has emboldened its cadres to launch large-scale frontal attacks on NATO's forces, though with heavy casualties. The campaign for a strong and stable Afghanistan under a truly representative Government has to be fought on all fronts - political, diplomatic, moral and, if necessary, military - by the international community. 

The Pakistan army has been deeply hurt by the almost 2,000 casualties that it has suffered in fighting a high-intensity insurgency in the NWFP in its quest to join the global war against terrorism. In September 2006, the Pakistan Government quite unexpectedly signed a "peace accord" with the tribal leaders in Waziristan and agreed to suspend hostilities against them. This has enabled the largely Pushtun "new Taliban" to upgrade the number and intensity of its encounters with NATO forced by launching forays from Waziristan and retreating to Pakistani territory when pursued. The US and NATO countries are naturally upset at this turn of events as Pakistan has evidently gone back on its promise to provide all possible help in the war against terrorism. It is apparent that the year 2007 will be a year of reckoning for Pakistan to deliver or face the consequences.

The conflict situation prevailing around India 's borders has led to regional instability and an uncertain security environment in the Southern Asian region - that is neither conducive to unhindered economic development nor contributes to human security. Private investors naturally hesitate to risk launching large-scale projects in an unstable region that has been described as a nuclear flashpoint. India can sit back and watch helplessly from the sidelines as instability creeps up to its borders or it can choose to shape the environment through selective intervention. The latter course will call for some hard policy options and a strong political will as well as political consensus to execute them successfully.