New world order in flux
India must adopt a policy of tactical assertiveness under strategic restraint as war with Pakistan is not in New Delhi's interest.
While the progress made in liberating Mosul and Aleppo has forced IS to retreat somewhat, its virulent ideology continues to flourish unabated. In fact, a “cyber caliphate” is emerging gradually. It is more dangerous than its geographical counterpart due to the ability to radicalise vulnerable youth using the Internet.
The unstable security environment in Afghanistan and along the Af-Pak border is the greatest cause of instability in southern Asia. The strategic stalemate between the Afghan government and the remnants of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) forces on the one side and the Taliban and Pakistan-sponsored terrorist organisations like the Haqqani network on the other, is likely to endure.
At the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar in December, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani snubbed Pakistan’s offer to invest $500 million for the reconstruction of his war-torn country. Indicting Pakistan in severe terms, he said the Taliban insurgency would not survive even a month if the outfit did not get sanctuary and support from Islamabad.
China’s growing nexus with Pakistan and the two countries’ unresolved territorial disputes with India pose a formidable national security threat to India. In 2016, the intensity of this threat did not diminish – as has been the case since the Kargil conflict of 1999.
Despite misgivings in both countries, the China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC) has begun to take shape. Passing through Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), the CPEC will link Xingjian province of China with Gwadar on the Makran coast west of Karachi.
Though Pakistan is raising a division of approximately 12,000 personnel to provide security for the CPEC against terrorist attacks, eventually Chinese soldiers are bound to be inducted for this purpose like in Gilgit-Baltistan. Large-scale presence of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army in Pakistan will further vitiate the security environment.
Surprisingly from India’s point of view, New Delhi’s long-time strategic partner Russia has expressed its support for CPEC, though denied later in a Facebook post. Russia also held a low-level military exercise with Pakistan and has offered to sell arms to the country. These developments are detrimental to India’s interests and could, to some extent, be attributed to the Obama administration’s policies that has driven Russia closer to China.
The nuclear deal that Iran signed with the US has held for over a year despite strong opposition from several regional neighbours like Israel and Saudi Arabia. Arguably, getting Iran to give up its ambition to acquire nuclear weapons was the most significant foreign policy achievement of the US since the Camp David accords of 1978.
It is not yet clear whether the nuclear deal will survive the advent of the Trump administration. If it is abrogated by either signatory, the world is likely to soon witness the arrival of another nuclear power – with attendant consequences. Iran’s nuclear weapons are unlikely to be acceptable to the Trump administration or Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or to the Saudis.
Forgotten in the shadow of the conflict in Syria and Iraq is the civil war in Yemen. The Houthis and their allies, who seized Sanaa in September 2014, are locked in a bitter fight with a Saudi-led coalition comprising mainly Arab nations from the Gulf. It has been reported that former Pakistan army chief Gen Raheel Sharif, who retired in November, has been approached to head the Saudi-led 34-nation coalition being assembled to fight Islamist terrorist groups.
Closer home, India’s red lines were repeatedly crossed by Pakistani terrorists in 2016. India conducted surgical strikes over a broad front across the Line of Control in September and also launched targeted fire assaults. India must continue to inflict punishment on the Pakistan Army for every act of terrorism planned and directed by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). India should adopt a policy of tactical assertiveness under the umbrella of strategic restraint as war with Pakistan is not in New Delhi’s interest.
Internal instability continues to haunt the government of Pakistan and its army. Two years and three summers after it was launched, Operation Zarb-e-Azb in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa is yet to be concluded successfully. A low-grade insurgency in Balochistan, unrest in Sind and Gilgit-Baltistan, creeping Talibanisation, ethnic tensions and a weak economy are a potent mix that could lead to an implosion.
Varying degrees of turmoil in other countries around India, including Bangladesh, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka, also contributes to regional instability. Narco-terrorism, the proliferation of small arms, the circulation of fake currency, trans-border money laundering and the availability of sanctuaries for insurgents – often aided and abetted by neighbouring states – enable non-state entities to challenge duly elected governments. The insurgent movements in India’s Northeastern states are an example of this phenomenon.
The prevalence of volatility in the region leads to the inevitable conclusion that southern Asia will continue to remain unstable for some more time to come. The countries of the region must come together in their own interest and agree to systematically plug the loopholes that enable cross-border insurgent movements to flourish.
Sadly, there is too much mistrust among the neighbours. With the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) virtually defunct, no viable umbrella is available to enable the conduct of long and hard negotiations that would be required.
(The writer is a distinguished fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi)