South Asia Security Trends April 2007: Brinkmanship

The ides of March crossed many areas of South Asia during the month under review. Sri Lanka continued to be marred by fratricidal violence as Government forces wage a relentless war of attrition in the East while the LTTE has returned with a vengeance unveiling a new weapon in its armoury, an Air Wing.

Peace is many months away as over 150,000 people are rendered homeless in Eastern Sri Lanka and the fate of millions hangs in the balance as the campaign progresses northwards. A fresh, ear to the ground perspective is provided by Col (Retd) R Hariharan writing on trends in the Island.

The emergency clamp down in Bangladesh was extended to bring over 160 political and other prominent personalities to book, including Mr Tarique Rehman, son of former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia. The hanging of terrorists accused of the 2005 blasts including Bangla Bhai should send a clear signal of resolve of the Caretaker Administration to inimical elements in the state.

Indo Bangla relations are already looking up. The possible scenarios in Bangladesh have been covered in detail in this issue.

After much political brinkmanship, the grand old man of Nepal, Mr G P Koirala took the oath as Prime Minister as the Interim Government took office with six ministers from the Maoist fold in tow. There is much work cut out ahead as elections have been scheduled in June, merely three months away, as the Madhesi agitation rocks the Terai and economy moves in jerks, the perils of power should be soon evident to the new government.

Bhutan also moved towards democracy after two political parties were formed and a new Indo Bhutan treaty meeting Thimpu’s aspirations came into effect.

Pakistan remained on the brink of militancy as well as political crisis throughout the month. Removal of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on charges of corruption and nepotism led to an uproar in the judiciary as well as the media. The ham handed approach of the state in dealing with the crisis saw police charging into offices of Geo TV, Pakistan’s symbol of media freedom. A major confrontation was avoided by a personal apology by President Musharraf and some deft political manoeuvring as the Government rode out the crisis. The Western FATA area witnessed a major clash between Uzbek militias linked to Al Qaeda and tribal fighters in South Waziristan as the government once again made a peace deal with the tribes in Bajaur agency.

Pakistan’s strategy of alternating between peace and controlled operations receives extensive coverage in this issue. Afghanistan on the other hand was relatively calm due to a combination of factors of intense operations by NATO forces, Taliban’s preoccupation in FATA and the lucrative poppy season. Suicide terror, kidnapping and extortion are however assuming alarming proportions.

India too saw a spurt of violence in Naxal affected states of Chattisgarh and Jharkhand as a key Member of Parliament was shot dead by the Maoists and over 55 policemen killed in a midnight attack by a large group of militants in Rani Bodli. Bihar too saw a return of the Maoists after a long time, denoting unfolding of the Maoist strategy outlined in the 9th Congress.

In the North East, the ULFA continued its battle for political and military relevance in Assam. The NSCN factions were involved in internecine clashes while Manipur settled down after a hectic period of electioneering.

The DRDO came for special scrutiny during the month and a detailed review has been undertaken while India’s defence preparedness in other spheres continues apace. The SAARC summit in New Delhi will be in focus on 3 and 4 April with terrorism forming a key part of the agenda

China’s Prime Minister denoted a new vision extending over 100 years while extensive plans for development of strategic technologies and new confidence in the PLA Navy indicated the mood of the nation. The United States continued to suffer from the high wages of conflict in Iraq as surge operations have yet to demonstrate results while Congress is pressuring the Administration to fix a withdrawal date in 2008.

Britain felt the heat of stand off with Iran as 15 sailors were apprehended by the Revolutionary Guard in disputed waters of the Shaat el Arab. Somalia saw a return to guerrilla warfare even as African Union troops were being deployed to take control from Ethiopian forces. Japan inked a new agreement of security cooperation with Australia as both nations looked beyond bitter memories of the Second World War.

Much needs to be done in April, to make the World and particularly South Asia a safer place.

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