Though this past year has been relatively peaceful in South Asia, the unstable regional security environment, India’s unresolved territorial and boundary disputes with China and Pakistan, and the continuing internal security challenges are a cause for concern. After West Asia, this region is perhaps the most trouble prone region in the world. With a history of four conflicts in 60 years and three nuclear-armed adversaries continuing to face off, South Asia has often been described as a nuclear flash-point.
The regional security environment in South Asia continues to be marred by Afghanistan’s endless civil war despite the induction of additional troops in 2010 by the U.S.-led NATO-ISAF coalition forces. Pakistan’s halfhearted struggle against the remnants of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, fissiparous tendencies in Baluchistan and the Pushtun heartland, continuing radical extremism and creeping Talibanisation, the unstable civilian government, the floundering economy and, consequently, the nation’s gradual slide towards becoming a ‘failed state’, pose a major security threat to India. The collusive nuclear weapons-cum-missile development programme of China, North Korea and Pakistan as also Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons are serious issues of concern.
Sri Lanka’s inability to find a lasting solution to its ethnic problems despite the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) has serious repercussions for stability in the island nation. Bangladesh’s emergence as the new hub of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism, even as it struggles for economic upliftment to subsistence levels, could trigger a new wave of terrorism if left unchecked. The Maoist ascendancy in Nepal and its adverse impact on Nepal’s fledgling democracy, as also Nepal’s new found inclination to seek neutrality between India and China, are a blow to what has historically been a stable India-Nepal relationship. Simmering discontentment in Tibet and Xinjiang against China’s repressive regime is gathering momentum and could result in an open revolt. The peoples’ nascent movement for democracy in Myanmar and several long festering insurgencies may destabilize the military Junta despite its post-election confidence. The spillover of religious extremism and terrorism from Afghanistan and political instability in the CARs are undermining development and governance.
Other vitiating factors impacting regional stability in South Asia include the unchecked proliferation of small arms, nurtured and encouraged by large-scale narcotics trafficking. India’s standing as a regional power with global power ambitions, and one that aspires to a seat on the UN Security Council has been seriously compromised by its inability to successfully manage ongoing conflicts in its neighborhood, singly or in concert with its strategic partners.
These conflicts are undermining South Asia’s efforts towards socio-economic development and poverty alleviation by hampering governance and vitiating the investment climate. Here’s hoping that the new year will bring in better opportunities to reduce tensions in the region, and improve the socio-economic conditions.
(Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.)