Security Trends South Asia : December 2006

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November was a momentous month for South Asian security and polity. There were events as far away as Riga in Latvia where the NATO summit was held which affected the region. NATO’s commitment in Afghanistan should be good news for the region, Kabul requires much needed support of an international coalition and not just unitary support of the United States. It also heralded the reemergence of a balanced multi polar order, the nuances of which are not very clear so far. The visit of Chinese President Hu Jin Tao to India and Pakistan was a significant happening and is set to structure the relationship between the Asiatic power China and South Asia’s two most powerful and adversarial nations. Achieving a balance of interest rather than a balance of conflict would prove beneficial to all parties, but the contours do not appear to emerging towards such a situation at least in the near and mid term future.

Sri Lanka was on the verge of abandoning the cease fire and returning to declared hostilities. The vituperative attack by LTTE Chief V Prabhakaran on the Heroes Day indicated a return to arms, a stand which was probably imaged by the Sri Lankan Government, despite some subtle Indian pressure. Afghanistan saw some waning of operational activity with the setting of early winter; however the spate of vehicle borne IED and suicide attacks is likely to continue. Internal security is now a major concern in Pakistan with the attack on the Punjab Training Centre at Dargi. The holding of IDEAS 2006 to show case Pakistan’s defence production capability was a reasonable success, the other being acquisition of advanced radars fro F 16 aircraft. Bangladesh appeared to be forever on a boil with election fever catching up with the animosities between the two principal parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Nepal was one region which raised hopes of peace with signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Maoists and the Government, the fighters are likely to move back to the barracks.

Another event of immense significance was the thumping vote in the United States Senate in favor of the Indo US Civil Nuclear Deal which set the stage for resumption of nuclear fuel supplies to India in a year or so. While there are many more hurdles to go, the nuclear energy giants are already lining up the corridors of New Delhi seeing a large potential for growth, with Indian dependence on nuclear power being a meager 3 percent.

Internally India saw a short but intense spell of communal violence in Maharashtra, the country’s prime investment destination. This time it is the aggrieved Dalits who went on a rampage against government silence over atrocities. In Kashmir, Syed Salahuddin the Chief of Hizbul Mujaheedin gave a call for cease fire with some caveats, though on ground there was limited relief. There were a series of apprehension of terror suspects in the country a welcome sign of effectiveness of the counter intelligence set up. In Andhra Pradesh in particular the Naxals appear to under pressure but the campaign will have to be sustained as it is a long haul ahead. The International Seminar on Defence Finance and Economics (ISDFE) set the stage for greater efficiencies in management of defence. A number of important projects were reviewed during the month, including FINSAS, Missile interceptor technology demonstrator, stealth naval craft and induction of a number of foreign firms lining up for lucrative deals from helicopters to nuclear reactors.

Internationally Iraq is now (UN) officially (though not by the US) in a state of civil war. The earlier this reality is accepted and the existence of Israel by the Palestinians, the closer we are to peace in the Middle East. There is rapprochement between Israel and the Palestinian government, but it is too early to say how the wind blows. Iran in the interim flexed its military muscles holding exercise Great Prophet 2 and firing Sahab 3 ballistic missile. A change in US policy in the Middle East however appears inevitable. The other hot spots in the World Sudan, Chad and Somalia continued to burn, with Somali fighters reportedly involved in fighting the Israelis along with Hezbollah, a report which needs to be validated. Terrorism trends indicate the likelihood of a WMD and a cyber strike by the Al Qaeda or its associates, which could be a cause for serious alarm though the World community appears to be taking it as a routine warning. While in tiny Fiji, the military continues to threaten the civil government with a coup.

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Rahul K. Bhonsle is a Strategic Risk and Knowledge Management Consultant and writer with specific focus on defence and security, especially in South Asia.