Tackling regional insecurity a task for Modi

China’s growing nexus with Pakistan and the two countries’ unresolved territorial disputes with India continue to pose a formidable national security threat to India.

The NDA government’s second innings has begun at a time when the regional security environment is more unstable that it has been for many years. A decade of post-LTTE peace in Sri Lanka has been shattered by the church bombings claimed by the Islamic State. Tensions between the US and Iran over the nuclear deal are threatening to lead to a new round of conflict in the Gulf. Efforts at forging a peace deal between Saudi Arabia and its allies and the Houthis in South Yemen are floundering.

Further afield, the polycentric new world order, the early contours of which had begun to emerge from the ashes of the Cold War, has begun to fray at the edges. The primary causes for this condition are the growing friction among the major powers: Russia and the US vis-à-vis Ukraine and Crimea; China’s belligerent posturing in South and East China seas; rise of ultra-right wing political parties; dilution in the forces of globalisation and free market economies and the international community’s inability to defeat the forces of radical extremism.

In north-east Asia, though North Korea has temporarily halted nuclear warhead and long-range ballistic missile tests that it had been conducted in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and is negotiating some form of ‘denuclearisation’ with President Trump’s team, the talks are tenuous and likely to break down irretrievably. The threat of conflict on the Korean peninsula — the 38th Parallel has been a flashpoint since the 1950s — will recede if the two sides continue to discuss demilitarisation.

In West Asia, while progress made in liberating ISIS-controlled areas in Iraq and Syria has forced the IS to retreat geographically, its virulent ideology continues to flourish. In fact, a cyber caliphate comprising hundreds of laptop warriors has begun to emerge. The cyber caliphate is potentially more dangerous than its geographical counterpart due to the ability of a handful of the faithful to radicalise large sections of vulnerable youth using the Internet. 

In South Asia, the continuing Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and along the Af-Pak border is the greatest cause of instability. The strategic stalemate between the Afghan government and the remnants of the US-NATO forces on one side and the Taliban and Pakistan-sponsored terrorist organisations like the Haqqani network on the other, is likely to endure. The Taliban now control over 50 per cent of the rural areas.

China’s growing nexus with Pakistan and the two countries’ unresolved territorial disputes with India continue to pose a formidable national security threat to India. In recent years, the intensity of this threat has not diminished. In fact, the Doklam standoff near the India (Sikkim)-Tibet (China)-Bhutan trijunction in June-August 2017 further vitiated the security environment.

Despite misgivings in both countries, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has begun to take shape. Passing through Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan--occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK), the CPEC will link Xingjian province of China with Gwadar on the Makran coast west of Karachi. Involving an investment of $64 billion, the manufacturing, transportation and storage projects that form part of CPEC will be financed entirely by China through soft loans. Pakistan has only now begun to realise the magnitude of the long-term debt burden that it will be saddled with.

India’s long-time strategic partner Russia has expressed its support for CPEC. Russia also held a low-level military exercise with Pakistan and offered to sell arms to it. The US administration’s anti-Russia policies are driving Russia closer to China. These developments are detrimental to India interests.

Closer home, of the almost one million Rohingya Muslims who have for long been residing in the Rakhine province of Myanmar, over six lakh fled their homes due to alleged repression by the army. They have streamed across the open border into Bangladesh. Many of them have been attempting to sneak into India. If arrangements are not soon made to get Myanmar to take them back, malnutrition and disease prevailing in the refugee camps in Bangladesh could escalate to insurgency.

India's red lines have been repeatedly crossed by violation of the mutually agreed ceasefire of November 2003 by the Pakistan army, for example in the terrorist attack on a CRPF convoy at Pulwama in February 2019. India is continuing its post-surgical strikes policy of tactical assertiveness under the umbrella of strategic restraint. The post-Pulwama airstrike in Balakot in Pakistan made this point forcefully.

Internal instability continues to haunt the government of Pakistan and its army. Over four years after it was launched, Operation Zarb-e-Azb in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is still to be concluded successfully. A low-grade insurgency in Balochistan, unrest in Sind and Gilgit-Baltistan, Talibanisation, ethnic tensions and weak economy are a potent mix that could lead to an implosion. 

Turmoil in Bangladesh, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka has added to instability. Narco-terrorism, proliferation of small arms, circulation of fake currency notes, trans-border money-laundering and availability of sanctuaries for insurgents enable non-state entities to challenge duly elected governments. The insurgent movements in India’s north-eastern states are an example of this phenomenon. 

Clearly, the countries of the region must come together in their own interest and agree to systematically plug the loopholes that enable cross-border insurgent movements to flourish. Long and hard negotiations would be required for a cooperative security framework to evolve for peace and stability in the region. The new government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has its work cut out.