As for other troubled countries of South Asia, Nepal has not stabilized after the demolition of the monarchy and bourgeoising of its Maoists. The Maoists seem bent on seizing all controls in Nepal and are systematically moving towards this objective. Sri Lanka continues to grapple with ethnic and identity conflicts even after the defeat of Tamil Tigers and death of their supremo, Prabhakaran. The Sinhala leadership will have to demonstrate a great deal of pragmatism and statesmanship to find a new and acceptable equilibrium for all the communities living there. Bangladesh presents a pitiable case with a bursting population growth, abject poverty and growing extremism in its polity and is unable to trust India.
Chinese needs for energy and other raw resources are expected to nearly double. China is therefore investing heavily for creating s blue water fleet, with aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines”¦
It is evident that SAARC has failed and needs to be replaced by another body which will promote democratic values, interdependence and conflict resolution. India should take a lead in the matter and invite only such South Asian states to participate who will not let their political hang ups to come in the way of expansion of regional trade, investments, water management, intraregional connectivity and counter terrorism.
The need for counter terrorism has brought the four central Asian states of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan into a regional institution with China and Russia, called the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, in 2001. Besides dealing with Islamic terrorism this forum can lead to useful arrangements for accessing gas and petroleum products in Caspian Sea area. Institutions like SCO, ASEAN, and SAARC etc are all created on the model of European Union which dilutes the sovereignty of its members over some major political and social areas and reduces drastically the sharpness of balance of power politics. However the Asian regional institutions are far from accomplishing such results because of their members own sense of insecurity and fears of loss of identity but there seems to be no better way of ensuring their security. India’s decision to be a part of such bodies is a visionary decision. India’s voice is valued by the smaller nations of the East and that will add leverage to its opinions in South Asia also.
Because Britannia ruled over the waves the British were able to create an empire over which the sun never set. In the near future a deep contestation is likely to arise over who rules over the Indian Ocean. The Chinese want to control the sea lanes as more than four fifths of the crude oil requirements of China pass through the Ocean. The bulk of raw materials like iron ore, coal and bauxite, essential for Chinese growth, likewise pass through the same routes. In the next twenty years, Chinese needs for energy and other raw resources are expected to nearly double.
India is also engaged with Iran for a gas line to India through Pakistan. The talks are somewhat stalled on the issue of price of gas but the real stumbling block is whether trust can be placed on Pakistans assurances about the safety and continuity of the supplies through its territory.
China is therefore investing heavily for creating s blue water fleet, with aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and paraphernalia capable of projecting force in the Indian Ocean apart from the Pacific. India senses a threat from such developments, since four fifths of its own energy requirements like oil from Persian Gulf, liquefied gas from Qatar and Indonesia, come over sea routes. The smaller nations in the region are alarmed by the growth of sea power of India and China and are beefing up their own navies. Hopefully, the rivalries in the Indian Ocean will be contained through prudent diplomacy and non-belligerent engagements.
Only three other trouble spots affecting Asian security remain to be considered and they are Palestine, North Korea and Iran. No one can predict what shape a solution of the Palestinian question will take since each side remains adamant on its terms, the Palestinian Arabs on sharing of ownership of Jerusalem and vacation of some Jewish settlements from earlier Arab owned land and Israeli refusal to concede on the two points. India has to tread very carefully while dealing with them since it upholds the humanitarian and just demands of the Arabs and at the same time has a very close security relationship with the Israelis through which flows highly sophisticated equipment, essential for its safety and defence. No foreseeable change in this policy is likely to occur.
North Korea has hugely damaged Indian interests in the past by supplying long range nuclear capable missiles and missile technology to Pakistan against receipt of nuclear weapon technology in return. But no new damage is expected. North Korea is an exceptionally frail economic entity and all its neighbours are worried over its ongoing nuclear weapon programme and its intentions. North Korea like Fidel Castro in Cuba is run only by one man Kim Jong-il, dictator of the country. He is believed to be not in good health. His sudden collapse can open up several possibilities; a civil war, a gradual unification process German style with South Korea, attempt at annexation by China or a proxy war involving US, India is just likely to remain a distant watcher, going along with solutions that UN may offer.
Indias stakes in the region are also enormous but the horrifying factor of Pakistan cannot be overlooked.
Iran’s is a perplexing case for India’s security and foreign policy. Although a signatory in 1985 of the Nonproliferation treaty, NPT, the world believes it has violated its commitments and is secretly engaged in a nuclear weapon development exercise. Essentially Iran is a fundamentalist Islamic country with links to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine, both accepting terror as a tool of policy. It is feared that the two could be a beneficiary of a successful Iranian nuclear weapon programme. If that happens it will be the thin end of the wedge and nuclear munitions could travel to other terrorist groups in other parts of the world. India, therefore, takes a bold and negative view on this programme.
At the same time India depends a great deal on energy imports from Iran and hence must keep Iran pacified. US worries over the Iranian nuclear developments are similar. The Obama administration has probably already commenced track II discussions with Iran to evolve a satisfactory solution. India is also engaged with Iran for a gas line to India through Pakistan. The talks are somewhat stalled on the issue of price of gas but the real stumbling block is whether trust can be placed on Pakistan’s assurances about the safety and continuity of the supplies through its territory.
Accepting the assurance cannot but be a huge gamble. This whole region, Central Asian Republics, Iran, Iraq the Gulf, US, China and Russia today are heavily involved in the geopolitics of oil, gas and pipelines and none of these countries will easily accept being upstaged by others. India’s stakes in the region are also enormous but the horrifying factor of Pakistan cannot be overlooked. A policy, indemnified by major countries, though still risky, may be the best option for India.
This survey of Asian security reveals that security problems lie scattered along the length and breadth of Asia. At the same time it is to be noted that such problems do not come in the way of increasing globalization of economic relations, trade, investments, inter- dependence and connectivity. Mutual economic benefits may help in keeping a lid over political disputes, at least over the foreseeable future. Economic prospects perhaps hold the key to integrate security related political complexities of Asia as demonstrated by countries of Europe who are now the members of the European Union.