South Asian Winter : Hope in Despair

Sadly, the coming winter holds little hope for South Asia. With oil prices touching $ 100, economic hardship is set to add to the conflict spectrum. Afghanistan should have slipped into a quiet winter with dry cold winds biting into heavy woolen clothing making operations virtually impossible. However this year both sides seem to be jockeying for position. The Taliban have already started their campaign with two districts assaulted in Farah in the West and many more likely in the South and the East. Helmand will be another battle ground as who so ever controls this fertile Valley will also have the largest supply of poppy when spring 2008 comes. Thus Musa Qala and Sangin will be familiar names in the security manager's lexicon in the days ahead. Suicide attacks particularly in and around Kabul are also likely to increase. Yet the resolve of both sides will last the rigors of weather and fighting.

Pakistan to the East is likely to face greater challenges both political and militancy. Emergency, Elections and militancy will dominate the scene ahead. The spate of suicide attacks and tough resistance in North and South Waziristan and Swat continues to challenge the government. Elections may only add to the misery of providing targets to terrorists determined to impose their brand of fundamentalism in a country which is increasingly seeking moderation, yet they are essential. Reports of dissension within the ranks of the army are adding to uncertainty. While Benazir Bhutto made a triumphant yet tragic return on 18 October marred by a suicide attack which killed over 130 people, she is faced with the challenge of relevance in a fractured polity. Yet firmness by leadership both political and military is the option ahead for Islamabad.

Nepal across the Himalayas is facing a similar political crisis which may be resolved temporarily but fissures within the Six Party Alliance will last over the months and till Constituent Assembly elections are held and an elected government firmly gains control of the administration, there is not much hope ahead. The royalists seem to be having the last laugh, with popularity of the monarch suddenly showing a leap, indicating the short memory that people really have. On the law and order and the economic front too there are woes ahead with rising fuel prices, deteriorating situation in the Terai and a spate of bomb attacks albeit of low intensity. Bhutan though has much to cheer as the country goes for National Council elections on 26 December which is party less. The Assembly elections are in February 2008 and with three political parties in the fray it should throw up an interesting combination after the first democratic elections in the country.

Myanmar saw some signs of rapprochement between the military junta and the democratic forces. The mediator nominated by the government met up with Aung Suu Kyi and the process of reconciliation has started. But it will be a long haul ahead as military hard liners have consolidated their hold over power with moderates as Maung taking a back seat. International pressure may show demonstrated results but it is the troika of China, India and Russia in that order which can bring about significant change. Bangladesh took the first step in restructuring governance with judiciary separated from the executive on 1 November, while talks between the election commission and major political parties Awami League and BNP are slated to be held during the month. Some fears of splitting these parties by intelligence agencies in the absence of the top leaders in jail have however cropped up.

In the south, Sri Lanka continues to simmer as the LTTE and government forces are fighting a bloody battle with tactical gains as the raid of the militants on Anuradhapura air base or the air strike knocking out S. P. Thamilchelvan, the political face of the group denotes. Winter rains are unlikely to deter either party who will continue with probing attacks, deep penetration raids and suicide attacks. Tiny Maldives in the South is also likely to see some violence as the government and the small yet hard boiled fundamentalist elements seek to upset the socio political balance.

India's political crisis looming large last month with prospects of mid term elections has passed away at least for the time being. The Congress Party led UPA government has accepted that a full term government is much more precious than a nuclear deal given the instability it will create for the nation in the short term. However enthusiasts of the Deal have not lost hope. Their ability to manage both ends of the political spectrum will remain the principal challenge. Kashmir is likely to see some peace during the winters as level of violence has dropped down considerably and is traditionally lower during this period. However infiltration in the Jammu region is likely to continue with over 1300 militants waiting across the border. Terrorist attacks in the hinterland are also unlikely to go away as intelligence reports indicate a shift in the proxy war pattern by Pakistan with greater distancing of its official machinery but no softening in strategy of a thousand cuts.

Naxalism will continue to surge ahead with political and economic targets, bandhs, strikes and a general attempt to expand domination being the overall aim in Central India even as security forces are enhancing capabilities although far too slowly then desirable. India's North East with its multiple long standing insurgencies in Manipur, Nagaland and Assam boiling over to Meghalaya and even Tripura going for elections in the beginning of next year remains an area of concern. While the militant groups are under continuous pressure their ability to exploit weakness of the state in terms of governance and information management will keep them relevant in the socio political milieu. So a mix of slow burning conflicts and bloody battles awaits us in November in South Asia.


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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