South Asia Security Trends: Turmoil in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka

South Asia continued to be a region in the grips of political and military crisis during the month of January. Bangladesh was in turmoil as the Awami League did not permit the process of elections by the Interim Government to go through, fearing large scale vote manipulation. The crisis was resolved through international pressure and admirable restraint by the Bangladesh Army.

Nepal where events have moved rapidly over the past few months saw another crisis emerging after a new Interim parliament took office. The Madhesis in the Terai region raised a call for mass agitation for greater equity in the election process, some say as a result of a rejuvenated Palace. Promises of a federal structure failed to assuage the agitators.

Violence continues to plague Sri Lanka as the Government forces allegedly supported by the local Tamil militia under Karuna, cleared LTTE pockets in the East and gained control of Highway A 15. The battle lines for the North have been drawn despite increased pressure on both parties for returning to the peace table. The Sri Lankan government appears determined to seek a military solution to the Tamil problem.

Afghanistan and Pakistan were wracked by violence with a number of suicide attacks in both states. The Taliban and NATO forces in Afghanistan have been flexing their muscles with a hot summer expected in 2007. Lack of cooperation between the two governments was evident with Afghanistan severely castigating Pakistan for support to Taliban and moves for construction of a border fence.

India saw a spate of violent attacks by the ULFA in Assam which caused over 100 deaths. This is the third or fourth major wave of violence by the outfit as each time it is suppressed it manages to rise from the ashes. Elections in Manipur and negotiations with the NSCN (IM) leadership which is on a visit to India will engage attention during February. Punjab and Uttarakhand also prepare for assembly elections during the month. Kashmir saw hectic political activity as the moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Farooq attempted to create a distinct space devoid of violence. The ability to bring peace is dependent on swerving the militants away from the gun as Omar Abdullah very aptly summarized.

Indo Russian cooperation received a new fillip during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Republic Day celebrations. The key areas of cooperation continue to be defence and nuclear energy. Indo Pakistan confidence building measures are also on course, though the pace may not be to Pakistan’s satisfaction. ISRO, India’s space behemoth fired a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and successfully recovered an experimental module signalling that it has placed the failed GSLV test behind it. While the Indian Air Force appears to be in an overdrive with holding of an international seminar on Aero space power and the Aero India 2007 in Bangalore. Attention is primarily focused on the large 126 aircraft fighter deal which has whetted the appetites of many aircraft manufacturers around the World.

In the international arena, China stunned the World with an anti satellite weapon destroying a weather satellite and then remaining silent over the feat for well over a week. Beijing’s increased interest in Africa was evident with President Hu Jintao visiting 8 African nations during the month. The US Armed Forces increased intensity of operations in Iraq in the wake of the new, ‘surge’ policy. Results would be evident in the weeks and months to come as staying the course is as important as increasing physical deployment. Somalia showed some signs of stability as Al Qaeda fighters having been driven out of the country were engaged by US jets on the Somalia Kenya border. Britain came up with a juxtaposed hard and soft power policy which may well see more numbers of British forces in many distant parts of the World.

Thus February may not be much different in South Asia than the openings of the New Year 2007.

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Rahul K Bhonsle

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