Monday, December 5, 2011

Stabilizing South Asia

With the beginning of 2011, the overall geopolitical and security scenario across the globe will appear to be distinctly dismal with 2010 not having witnessed any significant political breakthroughs toward peace and stability. Severe recession plagued the world’s economy as never before and the scourge of terrorism unrelentingly expanded its global footprint in more dangerously innovative forms.
Environment and Climate
Unbridgeable chasms in managing the world’s environment and climate continued to bedevil the developed and the still developing fraternity among nations where billions still remain deprived of the most basic sustenance.
Nearer home, South Asia presents a bleak picture with most of our neighbors suffering, apart from economic deprivation, political instability underscored by the ever-expanding specter of terrorism.
Mercifully, as alluded to by our no-nonsense home minister, India did not witness any major terror strikes in 2009 with over a dozen of these strikes perhaps averted, thanks to some improvements in our overall security architecture, besides the always welcome “luck” factor.
Terrorism Menace
Terrorists and all those agencies, predominantly foreign and now some home grown, which mastermind terror will undoubtedly be waiting in the wings to fructify their evil agendas soon for 365 days without a major terror act in the Indian hinterland would be unpalatable to them.
As such, 2010 could prove to be very challenging to India’s security apparatus, besides, once again, testing the resolve of the Indian state to combat terror. India thus has to look inwards to ensure its own well-being by itself, and as an extension of its ethos and values and as the premier power in this region, do all it can to stabilize South Asia.
To our immediate west lies the most dangerous expanse of the world, namely, the Af-Pak region. Pakistan, globally acknowledged as a fountainhead of terror, is at the cross-roads with its own existence as a nation-state under grave threat attributable to those very elements of the Taliban and Al Qaida it nourished for years to foment terror in India and Afghanistan as an extension of its myopic state policy.
Almost daily major acts of violence all across Pakistan have virtually brought it to a halt, but is Pakistan still sincere in combating terror or will its death wish take it to further ruin? An unstable albeit nuclear-armed Pakistan in the danger of imploding has severe security implications for India and we thus have to monitor the overall situation with great caution.
Though adopting a posture of benign neglect towards them may have some takers in this country, yet indifference towards Pakistan may not prove prudent in the long run. As we remain firm in not restarting the composite dialogue till the 26/11 perpetrators are brought to book by Pakistanis and as unambiguously stated by our Prime Minister that no redrawing of boundaries could be ever considered, India could mull over two steps in the larger interests of peace and stability for this region.
We must impress upon Pakistan that, in Afghanistan, India’s sole interest is to bring peace and development to that hapless nation and thus Pakistan must refrain from carrying out any anti-India activities there.
Accordingly, the first step India could contemplate is that if Pakistan officially commits to genuinely stop abetting terror, India may once again offer a no-war pact on the lines of one that was suggested by the Prime Minister in Amritsar four years ago.
Consequently, Pakistan could safely withdraw as many troops they wish from their eastern border to pursue their internal war against the Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists more vigorously.
The second step could be to invite the main centre of power in Pakistan, namely their Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, for a frank ‘one-to-one’ discussion with the Indian government on some security collaborative measures which need to be taken.
Our democratic dispensation in India will naturally be hesitant to have parleys with the Pakistan Army Chief in India instead of their political leadership and thus such meetings could be managed even outside the country in a confidential manner.
Nevertheless, as we must upgrade our badly lagging and ageing military preparedness, India must not remain indifferent to the happenings inside Pakistan and the small yet civilized constituency for democracy and sanity inside Pakistan needs our encouragement.
Importantly, India must also impress upon the United States that for stabilizing Afghanistan, more than a unilateral approach, getting together all the principal players of the region like Russia, even China, Iran, India, Pakistan and itself to collaborate, under the UN banner, may prove beneficial to that fragile and impoverished country.
Towards our East, after years of an uneasy relationship with Bangladesh, the scenario is positively encouraging with the friendly regime of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina handing over the bulk of the Bangladesh-located rebel ULFA leadership to India.
This major goodwill measure needs to be reciprocated in a substantial manner by our government and we need to address the problems of the Farraka Barrage, the Tin Bigha corridor, the trade deficit problems with equanimity and in a spirit of cooperation.
India must make maximum use of this window of opportunity to cement a multi-faceted relationship with Bangladesh, especially during the forthcoming visit of its Prime Minister to India.
Notwithstanding the fact that Dhaka’s military establishment and intelligence agencies (predominantly its Directorate General Forces Intelligence) have had very close linkages with both the Chinese military and Pakistan’s ISI, a fresh approach to foster security relationships with them be tried. The cooperation of Bangladesh is vital for peace in our restive North-East region.
Maoists Issue in Nepal
With Nepal, over the years, our relationships have been peculiar of love and hate. Nepal, since the end of monarchy, has itself been witnessing a fratricidal struggle owing to the power and ideological struggles between the pro-democracy elements and the Maoists.
Notwithstanding the Maoists’ unfavorable perceptions of India, the visit of Nepalese leader Madhav Kumar to India in August 2009 was indeed a promising beginning for Indo-Nepalese relations. India must strive for the speedy implementation of the various trade and river waters treaties in existence and those signed recently.
We also need to give a fillip to the Bilateral Consultative Group on Security to address all security issues, including cross-border crimes. However, Nepal has to be firmly told that anti-India activities being masterminded by the ISI from Nepal, especially of sending in trained terrorists and the use of Nepalese territory as a conduit for smuggling in fake Indian currency to India has to be dealt with effectively.
China and Sri Lanka Factors
The Indian establishment needs to work out long-term strategic-cum-intelligence arrangements with the Nepalese establishment, notwithstanding the current opposition to it by pro-China elements inside Nepal. In addition, fencing of the currently open Indo-Nepal border could be thought of, besides revisiting the 1950 India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship.
Though we have warm relations with Sri Lanka, India does not appear to be proactive in furthering its multi-faceted relationship with the island territory. With the Chinese ever active in the implementation of their “string-of-pearls” strategy, it is embarking on the construction of the strategic port of Hambontota in Sri Lanka, which has security implications for us.
And now with Tamil Tiger Prabhakaran out of the way and the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, India could consider supplying most of the military equipment for the Sri Lankan armed forces as possible and carve out newer areas of cooperation with its tiny neighbor. India has to prevent the Chinese doing a Myanmar in Sri Lanka.
The world acknowledges our “seat on the high table” and the potential of India as a significant global player in the coming years. A strong, secure and self-reliant India must play its major role to bring peace and stability to South Asia and the world at large.

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