THE creeping invasion by authoritarian regimes will engulf Asia by 2020 as democracies continue to retreat. India is unprepared and unwilling to safeguard the Asian democratic space.
The growing clout of totalitarian regimes coupled with the non-state actors is set to shrink the democratic space in Asia. If the onslaught is not reversed, by end of the next decade, Islamic fundamentalist regimes, communist dictatorships, military juntas and the non-state actors will redraw the international boundaries and largely govern Asia.
Squeeze of the democratic space in India increases once the American forces begin to exit Afghanistan in July 2011. Islamic fundamentalists with the assistance of sympathetic Pakistan Army will take over Afghanistan and Pakistan. This Taliban stronghold will operate on ‘hub and spoke’ principle to expand influence and territory. To begin with India will lose 1.5 billion dollars worth of investment in Afghanistan, as it is unwilling to defend it.
Islamic fundamentalism will sweep to Central Asia once the American wall holding the spread disappears from Afghanistan. Gradually the resource rich area will come under the spell of the dark forces. Russia will feel threatened. Americans and the ISAF are in many ways fighting Russia’s war.
But unlike New Delhi, Moscow is always willing to fight its way out!
Islamabad aims to create Caliphate with the help of the Islamic regimes running from Central Asia to West Asia and Southeast Asia. Union of India stands in the way. Beijing desires to unravel India into multiple parts based on the pre-British model, as it cannot digest the challenge to its supremacy offered in Asia by a liberal union of multi-religious and multi-ethnic states. The simple truth is that Indian democratic values contradict and thereby pose a threat to authoritarian philosophy of both, the Communists in Beijing, and the Islamic fundamentalists in Islamabad. Similarly many regimes in the Islamic West Asia feel uncomfortable with India’s ability to generate unprecedented soft power. Regression to the medieval times helps keep these autocratic regimes in saddle. The all-pervading Indian soft power, therefore, poses a serious challenge. Hence, Pakistan is supported by the petro-dollars dished out on a Wahabi checkbook to neutralise the threat posed by liberal India.
It is obvious that if the Indian model wins, autocratic regimes like China and Pakistan lose.
Primarily there have been no terrorist attacks on India after Mumbai 26/11 on two counts. First the raging civil war within has kept Pakistan preoccupied. Second the intervention of the American forces has forced diversion of Pak Army and its non-state actor’s resources away from India. The stated exit of the Western forces in beginning July 2010 from AF-PAK region will render India extremely vulnerable. The truth is that American forces in many ways are fighting India’s war too. However New Delhi’s expectation that they will continue to fight such a war without India chipping is being naïve.
While China and Pakistan have joined hands against India and bide their time for the American forces to leave, New Delhi has appealed Washington to not to exit from Afghanistan but is unprepared and unwilling to assist. The Catch-22 is that neither West led by America can win without the Indian help nor India can prevail by itself without a concrete alliance with the West.
New Delhi’s strategic incoherence continues to encourage Beijing and Islamabad’s designs of destabilising the Union. Militarily India remains underprepared due to the huge equipment shortages on land, sea and air, created by the Ministry of Defence over the last two decades. Shirking its primary responsibility of equipping the military leaves it ill equipped to cope with the increasing intensity of the threat, once the Western forces retreat.
The stalemate in Afghanistan predominantly occurs on two counts. First, superior technology in a guerrilla war where motivational level of the adversary is very high, unless combined with adequate boots on the ground cannot deliver victory. The West does not have a large reservoir of manpower to mitigate the situation. Thus, the under-manned war for past nine years has produced difficult-to-reverse battle fatigue despite the most modern technology on display. The result is resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda in AF-PAK area. To win, a fair share of the soldiery needs to be drawn from the Asian stock with equally high motivation and equipped with the western technology to surmount the challenge posed by the Islamic fundamentalists.
Second, to defend Afghanistan, the war machinery should focus on Pakistan. However, the American strategy in Afghanistan is similar to the Indian fortress mentality. Despite multiple attacks and infiltrations by the terrorists, New Delhi continues to fortify itself internally in futile attempts to repulse the attacks. Washington’s approach is similar in Kabul for the past nine years. The Americans and the allied forces keep defending against the irregular guerrilla forces launched in to Afghanistan from Pakistan, clandestinely trained by Pakistan Army and the ISI. The ghost forces from Pakistan when attacked disappear almost unscathed. They reappear inside Kabul at will, even far away from the war zone, as did Major Hassan, the psychiatrist or the Nigerian suicide bomber inside the Delta Airlines plane.
Washington and New Delhi cannot win, since both refuse to face the fact that Pakistan is the problem.
To lend stability to Afghanistan, the threat from Pakistan covertly backed by China must be neutralised. Similarly to secure India, the joint threat from Pakistan and China needs to be resolved. In both, Pakistan is the common factor. Beijing communists back the Islamic fundamentalists in Islamabad to expel the American influence and subdue the Indians, even as Pakistan draws oxygen for sustenance from the economic bailouts from the West. Logic dictates that to defend Kabul, with the intention of expanding influence of democracies in Asia, the focus must shift to Islamabad. However, exit by the American forces set for July 2011 from Afghanistan will herald the process of colouring Asia in a dark hue.
With the declaration of the exit time frame, Beijing and Islamabad are once again upbeat.
This leaves India in lurch, as it is ill prepared to face the threat jointly posed by Islamic fundamentalists that includes the Pakistan Army and the ISI, and the Chinese communists. Both support Maoists in Nepal and the non-state actors including Maoists in India. New Delhi therefore faces a simultaneous three-dimensional threat, i.e., the external war on two fronts, worsening internal front aided by external actors, and lack of governance.
(The writer is editor of Indian Defence Review)