OPINION

The Changing Geopolitics of South Asia

February 17, 2010
jay

Afghanistan has been relatively quiet on the surface for the past couple of months. It might lull any one who has not been paying attention, into thinking that the situation is getting better. The truth is quite to the contrary. A lot of strategic maneuvers have been taking place between the various players in the region since the announcement of America's intention of withdrawing from Afghanistan. There are all indications that the various players, Pakistan being the primary among them, are jostling for their domination over the region once the US withdraws. According to some interpretations it appears that they are willing to go to any lengths to secure a favourable outcome for themselves.  

In my December 13 article I had described how the next two years are crucial for India and others in the region. Although the doomsday scenario I painted in there will take time to play out (I hope it does not happen!), there are enough indications that Pakistan has already taken the upper hand in getting control of the situation in Afghanistan and is positioning itself to be the holder of the remote control of Kabul. The recent conferences in Istanbul and London are a case in point. Pakistan ensured that India was kept out of the conference. In fact it would like India to have nothing to do with Afghanistan - not even humanitarian assistance.

Given the utter dependence of the Western world on Pakistan, Gen Ashfaq Kayani is having a great time lecturing them about who he will target and who he won't. He has already given enough indications of how he will be maneuvering the various terrorist networks such that they will be good tools for him to use, whether it would be against the Western forces or against India. The sad part is that the double game being played by Pakistan is very clear to all but there is a feeling of all-around helplessness. Pakistan appears to be acting like a suicide bomber. It is like they have bombs tied to their body and are saying, "let me go or I will blow the world apart". Right now the world is ready to let them go.

A brilliant analysis by the Indian Defence strategist Mr. K Subramaniam (Indian Express dated 17-02-10) sees the recent Pune bombing as an indicator of things to come. At the surface, that bombing seemed more amateur than what the sophisticated groups are capable of, but there could be more to it than what is on the surface. According to him, the bombing was done to raise the temperature in India to such a degree that the ever-gullible media and the politicians of Thackeray's ilk would call for an armed response against Pakistan. This would provide all the proof that Mr. Kayani requires, to cry about the Indian threat and move his troops from the western to the eastern border of Pakistan. The American forces' recent surge in the Helmand province has made it untenable for the Taliban to survive there and they need a safe passage into Pakistan. This movement of troops will provide that safe passage with no consequences. According to Mr. Subramaniam, the Parliament attack of December 2001 was precisely aimed to have India raise the saber by amassing its troops at the Pak border. India fell into the trap pretty neatly. This provided Gen Musharaff the reason to move all his troops from the Afghan border to the Indian border so as to provide Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar a safe passage into Pakistan as the operation by the Americans at the time was making it difficult for them to continue to stay in Afghanistan. So, it looks like Deja vu all over again. India has done well to see through the game this time and announced that they will go ahead with the secretary level talks. One must realize that India does not expect to achieve anything out of these talks. This is purely a strategic move on India's part, perhaps a concession to the Americans. So, if India is not moved by a small attack, perhaps a bigger attack is on its way in the next couple of weeks.

It is just not clear where all this is going to end. But, it is definitely clear that there is going to be turmoil in this part of the world for the next few years. India needs to stand as one people and see through this game. Can we do it? Given the divergent motivations we have and the lack of trust we have for each other, I have my doubts. Have we forgotten about that 400-year old strategy of "Divide and conquer" again? 

An experienced profesional of more than 20 years. Enquiring into the context of the big issues of the day so as to understand them is a quest I pursue all the time. As Niall Ferguson said "To understand something, you need to understand its history". Hoping to bring some much needed multi-layered perspective into the burning issues of our country and the world by looking at ourselves from the outside rather than from within.
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