December 31, 2013
The year gone by saw both China and Pakistan become militarily more assertive on India’s borders than ever before in the last decade. While China launched a major incursion into the DBO sector of Ladakh and took several weeks to take the PLA troops back across the LAC, Pakistan repeatedly violated the cease-fire agreement and once again stepped up infiltration of terrorists across the LoC to launch strikes in Kashmir after lying low for several years.
Topping the charts of the unstable regional security environment in Southern Asia is Afghanistan’s endless conflict. The present situation can be characterised as a stalemate at the strategic and the tactical levels. This will continue with the Taliban and the Afghan-NATO-ISAF forces alternately gaining local ascendancy for short durations in the core provinces of Helmand, Marja and Kandahar. The Afghan National Army is still many years away from achieving the professional standards necessary to manage security on its own. It will, therefore, be difficult for the NATO-ISAF forces to conduct a responsible drawdown of troops in 2014. The US forces are likely to continue to launch drone strikes in Pakistan against extremists sheltering in the Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and FATA areas despite the adverse diplomatic fallout. A gradual drift into civil war appears to be the most likely outcome.
Pakistan’s half-hearted struggle against the remnants of the al Qaeda and the home grown Taliban like the TTP and the TNSM, fissiparous tendencies in Baluchistan, continuing radical extremism and creeping Talibanisation in the heartland, the tentative counter-terrorism steps of the new civilian government, the floundering economy and, consequently, the nation’s gradual slide towards becoming a ‘failed state’, pose a major security challenge for the region. Unless the Pakistan army gives up its idiosyncratic notions of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan and fuelling terrorism in India and concentrates instead on fighting all varieties of Taliban that are threatening the cohesion of the state, the eventual break-up of Pakistan may be inevitable.
Sri Lanka’s inability to find a lasting solution to its ethnic problems despite the comprehensive defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has serious repercussions for stability in the island nation. Despite the election of a civilian government, the gradual resurgence of the LTTE remains likely as the core issue of autonomy has not been addressed. The rising tide of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism in Bangladesh, even as it struggles for economic upliftment to subsistence levels, could trigger new forces of destruction if left unchecked. Much will depend on which party emerges as the largest after the elections scheduled in January 2014.