Based on POLITACT’s Entropy Alerts, Vantage Point Analysis, Analysis of Perception and Perspective and Global Security Studies, following are a list of key themes. Analyses of these themes are indispensable to a meaningful geopolitical forecast for the South Asia region. Some or most of these are interconnected one way or another, but we think it is still important to list them separately:
- The withdrawal of troops from Indian Kashmir
- The Saudi-Yemeni border situation
- The Horn of Africa and Somalia situation
- The Iranian nuclear issue and US/Israeli response
- The US economic situation and the global recession
- Dubai’s economic situation and its impact on the UAE and the Middle East
- Pakistan’s current and future fight against extremists
- Sectarian situation in Pakistan during Muharram
- Pakistan’s domestic politics and the NRO
- The Russian involvement in Afghanistan
- India-China Relations
- Maoist Insurgency in India
- Maoists in Nepal
- The pull and tug on Syria
- Cooperation between Pakistan, Turkey and Iran
- US-China Relations
- The US Afghanistan Strategy
- NATO’s commitment to Afghanistan
- US-Russia Relations
- The Middle East Peace Process
On December 2, 2009 President Obama announced his administration’s new US strategy in Afghanistan. We at POLITACT are in the process of exploring the implications of this strategy in a series of articles. We have come to believe that if matters like the Kashmir dispute remain unresolved, we might well see an escalation of the war, both in scope and reach. There are reports that India has announced the withdrawal of a significant number of troops from Kashmir; this might soothe Pakistan and strengthen it in its battle against extremists.
Meanwhile, the media reports that the American President has authorized broadening the reach of covert operations in Pakistan as part of the new Afghanistan strategy. In the current atmosphere, without progress on the Kashmir dispute, Pakistan’s government will find it difficult to convince the public of the benefits of an alliance with the US. On the other hand, if the American promise of military cooperation were to include the transferral of drones, a long-standing demand of Pakistan, the public might be more favorably disposed. Additionally, the army is likely to be more cooperative in private as compared to what it will admit in public.
However, while the US appears willing to work with Pakistan on a tactical basis, its strategic tilt is more towards India. Unless this perception can be changed either by normalization of India-Pakistani relations or by offering Pakistan a substantial incentive (for example, a civil-nuclear deal), it will continue to believe that it is being shortchanged.
As pointed in November 2009 forecast, US pressure will increase on Pakistan to take action against Afghan Taliban in North Waziristan as well as Baluchistan. This pressure on both sides of the border, according to the new strategy, can be instrumental in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiation table with a weak position. For Pakistan, going after Afghan Taliban can result in another backlash against the state. Furthermore, this tactics can result in a strategic alliance between Pushtun Afghan Taliban and TTP, with very serious consequences for the state of Pakistan. With India unwilling to negotiate on Kashmir, could further disillusion the Kashmiri Jihadists, which can also join hands with Afghan Taliban and TTP. Under these circumstances it is unlikely Pakistan will cross this line, particularly when there is increasing talk from Islamabad of Indian and Afghan hand in destabilization of Pakistan. American decision to escalate the war does little to mitigate these risks.
Extremists in Pakistan will continue to target military linked soft targets across the nation. With the approaching Muharram, sectarian tensions and fears of terrorist attacks can create an acutely dangerous situation. POLITACT has previously recommended closing of traffic in bazaars across the nation. As many Imam Bara’s are located in congested areas, there is a high probability for a VBIED type attack.
The court proceedings related to the NRO, about to be initiated by the Supreme Court, will further cripple the PPP ruling coalition’s ability to govern. Prime Minister Gilani, however, is expected to emerge stronger from this process. This comes at a time when the US is escalating the war in Afghanistan and action against the extremists in Pakistan. It would, of course, be better if there were no distractions on the domestic front at this time, but reform is absolutely necessary if the Pakistani political system is to achieve the credibility required to effectively deal with extremism.
In the absence of noticeable progress in the Middle East peace process, the goodwill expressed by President Obama towards the Islamic world in Egypt is fast losing its impact, increasingly seen as business as usual. Unfortunately, the new US Afghanistan strategy does little to counter this perception. In addition, Turkey has stated that it’s military will not take part in a combat role in Afghanistan and that training the Afghan forces should be the priority.
Meanwhile, Russia is offering to support the US in Afghanistan; this is probably the response to a recent incident in which an extremist Islamic group linked with Chechen insurgency claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Nevsky Express on November 27, which took the lives of about 36 people. Russia perhaps also feels jealous about the evolving G2 relationship between US and China. We believe that Afghanistan is fast becoming one of the settings mired not only by regional tussles but increasingly global tussles as well. The desire to avoid involvement in this struggle could explain German and French aversion to substantial involvement in Afghanistan. Most of the troops participating in the surge (other than those from the US) are likely to be from the Eastern European countries belonging to NATO or Newly Independent States, who are wary of Russia’s ambitions. At present, China and Russia are not bogged down by the task of having to cope with a war on top of a recession. Thus, both enjoy a comparative advantage and will use this period to advance their interests and extend their influence.
The status quo is unsustainable. Iran has been given until the end of December to respond to the P5+1 offer for international agreement on uranium enrichment. It seems plausible that the upshot will be strong sanctions against Iran, but we believe that Israel is becoming impatient with diplomacy. Although the US has made Afghanistan its priority for the next 18 months, it is likely that during this period another conflict will surface, requiring equal, if not greater, attention. The increase in number of troops and their deployment near Baluchistan region indicates US is also thinking of Iran as it decides to escalate the war in Afghanistan.
As long as Afghanistan remains unstable and consequently hosts a strong Western military presence, Indian-China relations are likely to deteriorate. If and when the US expands its drone attacks in Pakistan, one can reasonably expect the situation in India to rapidly go down hill. The nation-state qualification for exercising authority and responsibility for conflict is fast becoming meaningless. If nothing is done to prevent it, the present trajectory of this conflict could include Pakistan and India to the east, followed by Iran to the west. In this context, we foresee Maoists insurgency to worsen in India. China’s invitation to Kashmiri’s Hurriyat leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, to visit the country was widely interpreted as China indicating its stake in Kashmir, while others viewed it as simply tit-for-tat to India for allowing the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh.
It will be interesting to see how the prospect of default on a debit payment on the part of Dubai World, a huge government-owned conglomerate, plays out and how it impacts the United Arab Emirates in particular, and the Gulf region in general. There are perceptible military tremors not only on the Saudi-Yemeni border area but also in the greater horn of Africa (Somalia,) where the gradually worsening situation has the potential to make it another global hot spot. Syria, Iran’s ally, is another country to watch. Isolating Iran involves pressure on Syria as well as preventing improvement in Iran-Pakistan relations (Iran Pakistan Gas pipeline).
In the volatile environment resulting from the current global recession, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know whether one’s worst fears or a cautious optimism is justified.
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