India will hold one of its most significant general elections, but 2014 will also be momentous for Afghanistan and its neighbours
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi
Without even factoring in the momentous parliamentary elections that will take place in India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, it is safe to state that 2014 will be a year of far-reaching implications. That it would be a landmark year was apparent when President Barack Obama announced the US would pull out its troops from Afghanistan after 12 years. The US military presence there had reshaped the geo-politics of South Asia and also Pakistan’s interfaces with both Afghanistan and India. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan could deepen Pakistan’s problems by aggravating fault-lines in tribal-dominated frontier areas. The Pakistani army, which has been fighting the internal Taliban for a few years, could be confronted by new challenges emanating from Islamist militants that owe allegiance to Al Qaeda or its avatars. Similar rogue elements are leading the civil war against Basher-al-Assad in Syria.
The West that spawned these violent elements to overthrow inconvenient regimes in the Arab world seems to have woken up to the threat these agencies pose to their societies. Backpedalling furiously from a trajectory that brought only calamity and misery to people in different parts of the world, they have allowed diplomacy to step in where military might was routinely used to question the determinism built into a nation’s life.
Obama has brought about an important change in US policy, which will unfold in 2014 when the US and Russia hold the Geneva-2 conference in January to find a solution to the intractable, genocidal civil war taking place in Syria. In some ways, the US has responded to public opinion that has been furiously against war and wants to limit the powers of the State.
Optimism has grown after Iran, under its new president, Hassan Rouhani, signed a deal with the West to scale down its nuclear programme. This is an important agreement that disrupts old notions of a power arrangement between the US and the Arab countries. Its impact can be gauged by the fact that enemies have become friends and vice-versa. Israel and Saudi Arabia are strategizing to neuter the Iran-US deal. Although it will take six months for this compact to unfold, expectations are that if Iran and the US decide to work together there will be a shift in how Afghanistan responds to the threat from Pakistan-sponsored Taliban.
All these years, the archetypal Afghan mujahideen has been supported by Saudi Arabia and trained by Pakistani intelligence agencies. In the post-pullout Afghanistan, the original plan to stabilize this war-ravaged country through its neighbours like Iran, Russia, China and India could come into play. This formula is antithetical to the forward policy that Pakistan had envisaged for itself to preserve its “strategic depth” by retaining control over the government in Kabul. A rejuvenated Shia Iran, with the help of Russia and India, could trip Islamabad in attaining these objectives. However, this reordering of ties could sour if Saudi Arabia refuses to fall in line and beefs up Pakistan and its Wahabi elements. This could be catastrophic for Pakistan, and for India, where Kashmiri militants openly seek intervention from the Talibs across the border.
Incidentally, all these scenarios will play out around our country as India goes for one of the most significant elections in recent times. The BJP, fired by Narendra Modi’s leadership, will seek to question the way the UPA government has been dealing with Pakistan. The gravamen of the BJP’s attack is that the UPA’s politics of secularism and Muslim appeasement prevents it from taking a tough stand against Islamist militants. If the BJP comes to power again, it is unclear how its communal, majoritarian ideology will deal with these developments.
But, for that matter, there is no clarity on how the UPA or the Third Front would deal with it either.