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South Asia Security Trends April 2007: Reconciliation

The month of April was a period of reconciliation with South Asian leadership congregating for the 14th SAARC Summit in New Delhi. SAARC compared to other regional groupings as the European Union (EU) or ASEAN which have stabilized is only now showing signs of greater harmony.

SAFTA will be the main driver as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are already benefiting from opening up trade with India. Afghanistan saw resurgence of violence as the Taliban spring offensive is underway. NATO forces have pre-empted the Taliban in many sectors, but the guerrilla fighters will continue to foray in varied areas posing challenges, relying on a combination of kidnapping, suicide attacks and guerrilla strikes particularly on Afghan police and army personnel to undermine their morale and force hands of vacillating governments to leave the country.

Some improvement in Pakistan – Afghanistan relations is anticipated with Turkey brokering a declaration in Ankara at the end of the month. In Pakistan the threat of militancy and suicide terrorism came to the fore with a rally addressed by the Interior Minister struck by a suicide bomber in the NWFP killing over 30 people. Agitations of two hues were evident in the country. On one hand was the liberal lobby of lawyers and civil rights activists who protested sacking of Chief Justice of the country, while rabid fundamentalists of Lal Masjid in Islamabad took to the streets to impose strict code of conduct.

Nepal was caught in a welter of bandhs and agitations with the Maoists wanting immediate declaration of the state as a republic, while other groups such as the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum called for greater autonomy, federalism and equal representation. The Government has successfully handled the crisis so far and is expected to prevail.

In Bangladesh, the Caretaker Administration’s Minus Two politics exemplifying exile of two former Prime Ministers, Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina seems to have backfired, with supporters of the leaders succeeding to force the government to repeal its obliquely worded orders exiling the leaders. A fringe group struck in three places in the country, Dacca, Chittagong and Sylhet with low intensity bombs on 1 May, which caused little damage. Hectic political and administrative confabulations are going on in the country, as the Caretaker Administration is burdened with the challenge of restructuring governance as well as polity.

In Sri Lanka the LTTE sprung a surprise launching two air attacks in Jaffna and Colombo during the month. The last one was timed with the finals of the cricket world cup wherein Sri Lanka were playing Australia. Shutting off power due to the air raid, was expected to create panic but the stolid citizens of Colombo are probably inured to such incidents by now.

India saw successful test of the IRBM, Agni III followed by commercial launch of satellite by the ISRO which made up for past failures. The Indo US Nuclear Deal seems to be stuck in a groove with both sides attempting to iron out differences. The Sino Indian border talks also failed to enthuse the negotiators despite the salubrious environs of Coonor.

In Kashmir, demilitarization was the buzz, but the reality of terrorist violence has cooled enthusiasm at present. On the other hand a large number of youth on both sides of the LOC are perhaps awaiting a promised safe passage. Assam saw the ULFA on the defensive with supply lines having choked off from Myanmar, the group is under pressure. The State government played flip flop proposing talks just when the army was set to break the back of the militants. The Naxals continued their periodic rampage in Chattisgarh as the state is undergoing an acute crisis of efficient policing. Revival of the movement in Bihar is also evident.

In the international arena, Iraq continued to conflagrate along with Somalia in the Horn of Africa, while an Al Qaeda affiliate launched a terrorist attack on HQs of the prime minister of Algeria in North Africa. In Darfur, Sudan there are hopes of peace while the need for stability is leading the Pentagon to lay out plans for an Africa Command. The US State Department report on terrorism for 2006 denoted a rise in both the number of incidents as well as casualties across the globe, a reminder that there is a long haul ahead. The Al Qaeda apparently is not only surviving but also extending influence in newer parts of the World including North Africa.

The summer season in the Northern Hemisphere is regarded as ideal for military campaigns. The summer of 2007 does not portend to be any different as security forces are likely to remain preoccupied to keep peace and amity across much of the developing World and particularly in South Asia.

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

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