Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In South Asia, it's a tightrope walk for US

"Why do South Asians have to look up to the United States to solve their problems?" asks a very perplexed Naveen Thapa, a student of political science in Delhi University. "Why can't they take examples from Nepal? The decade-long Maoist conflict came to an end because people sorted it out themselves". Thapa echoes the view of many South Asians who believe that America still has not overcome its imperialistic interests.

At best, some argue that the subcontinent's significance to Washington is as a developing region with potential for US markets. True, but the dynamics have changed post 9/11 and continue to, post 26/11. What happened in Nepal was an internal strife that threatened peace of the region, but what is happening in South Asia -- read, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India -- is a threat not only to itself, but the world at large, which includes the Washington too.

America's newly-crowned President Barack Obama has said that militants based in South Asia represent the biggest threat to the US and he is absolutely committed to eliminating the threat of terrorism. "We're going to have to bring the full force of our power—not only military but also diplomatic, economic and political—to deal with those threats (terrorism). Not only to keep America safe, but also to ensure that peace and prosperity continue around the world," the President had said in his speech in Illinois. According to Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria, "The problems of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India are bleeding into one another so that what you have is a kind of South Asian terrorism where these groups are feeding off each other, finding pockets where they can train in lawless parts of the country".

If Afghanistan falls to the Taliban and Al Qaeda and India and Pakistan go for a war, not only would all of South Asia become a powder-keg but militants would get a go-ahead to wreak further havoc world over. So where exactly do we stand today? Change is in the air and the South Asia in 2009 presents a varied picture. Bhutan has opted for a new system of governance via a constitutional monarchy. Elections are due in India. In Sri Lanka, the army has almost achieved victory over the Tamil separatist rebels. Nepal has witnessed a historic transition from a monarchy to a democracy. Elections have just concluded in Bangladesh and it has resulted in a landslide victory for the Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina.

Less specific are the readings of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Torn by instability in Pakistan and the war in Afghanistan, South Asia has become a key battleground in the US-led war on terrorism. The new government in the United States is ensuring that in the coming months, much of the action takes place in South Asia. Special envoy Richard Holbrooke has just concluded his visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan and the next in line to visit the troubled areas is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"South and Central Asia are the most explosive areas in the world today and will continue to be so in 2009. Obama will face some of his trickiest foreign policy challenges in South Asia," says Ahmed Rashid, a political commentator. Trickiest because foreign interference and nationalism are delicate issues here. A report in the Times of India aptly puts it, "Our worldview doesn't go beyond our noses". Nevertheless, there are huge expectations from Obama here. Both New Delhi and Islamabad would want him to be on their side. All the while the new president will have to tell Pakistanis how much America loves them, while across the border he will take next steps to enhance a wholly different relationship with India.

The America under Obama is in a position to solidify a long-term relationship with India, edge Pakistan away from chaos, and prevent Afghanistan from falling into Taliban. But the problem with Washington's policy until now is that it has combined a politically soft approach towards Pakistan's military and the ISI with a militarily hard approach within Afghanistan. America's challenges, plan of action and policies with regard to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be discussed in the next update….

1 comment :

Arvin Vincent said...

This is to be seen how US responds to the new epicentre of terrorism: Pakistan. Though Pak officials have admitted Kasab does belong to them and 26/11 was plotted partly on their soil, this doesn't serve the purpose, of cutting terrorism roots. Obama has a key role now. What Bush did in Iraq and Afghanistan, will he be able to do in Pakistan?