Creeping instability around India

Shaping a peaceful environment through selective intervention calls for hard policy options, writes GURMEET KANWAL.
India’s regional security environment is characterised today by instability owing to the rise of Islamist fundamentalism, nexus between narcotics trafficking and terrorism, proliferation of small arms, uncertainty inherent in the rule of despotic regimes and terrorist organisations waging war against nation states.

The unexpected resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan is giving NATO commanders nightmares. Pakistan’s continued support has emboldened Taliban cadres to launch large-scale frontal attacks on NATO’s forces, though with heavy casualties. This summer will see a denouement of sorts as the Taliban becomes bolder. The campaign for a strong and stable Afghanistan under a truly representative government has to be fought on all fronts by the international community. India must not shy away from its responsibilities in Afghanistan, even if it becomes necessary to intervene militarily.

Failed war

Pakistan is waging an unsuccessful struggle against the remnants of the al Qaeda and the Taliban, particularly in Wana and Waziristan in the NWFP. The fissiparous tendencies are emerging in Balochistan and among the Pashtuns along with the rise of Jihadi Islam, just when Pakistan’s gradual slide towards becoming a “failed state” was at last being arrested.

The ongoing stand-off between the military regime and the hardline clerics in Islamabad and the people’s demonstrations in support of sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry do not augur well for Pakistan’s future. It could lead to heightened tensions with India. Externally, the US and NATO countries are upset at Pakistan’s lack of commitment in the war against terrorism. It is apparent that 2007 will be a year of reckoning for the military regime to deliver or face the consequences.

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. With the LTTE launching air strikes and attacking Sri Lankan ports almost at will, the tenuous truce has broken down irretrievably. Though the LTTE has posed no direct threat to India so far, it is in India’s interest to undertake joint patrolling of the Palk Strait with the Sri Lankan navy to keep Tamil Nadu free of LTTE influence.

Bangladesh is gradually but perceptibly emerging as the new hub of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism. Deeply divisive politics and poor governance are hampering its struggle for economic upliftment to subsistence levels. The caretaker government is following a heavy-handed approach and democracy has been put on the back burner. It has also been providing safe havens to Indian terrorist groups.

Migrants problem

There has been an almost unending influx of migrants from Bangladesh into India’s north-eastern states that has upset the demographic balance and led to tensions in the region. Clashes between India’s Border Security Force and the Bangladesh Rifles have been fairly frequent. Further deterioration of the situation is not in India’s long-term interests.

Nepal’s fledgling democracy, shaky at the best of times, is still to recover fully from a palace coup led by the King himself on February 1, 2005. The gains of the spontaneous people’s revolution that had restored Parliament in April 2006 and led to a rapprochement with the Maoist leaders, have not yet been fully consolidated. 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.

The regional instability and uncertain security environment around India is not conducive to unhindered economic development. Multi-national investors are averse to taking risks by investing in an unstable region that has also 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.