Geopolitical 2012: Tough Road Ahead
2011 comes to a remarkable close in the world of geopolitics. America, the Arab states, Af Pak, South East Asia and Korea hogged the limelight in forcing changes upon the very definition of political geography. Long time names such as Bin Laden, Gaddafi, Mobarak and Kim Il Jong faded or were forced to leave the arena while others such as Ahmedinejad, Obama and Thein Sein made their mark on the landscape for a variety of right and wrong reasons.
But more than names, 2011 was the year of regime changes based on the aspirations of youth in the Arab world who longed for “bread and social reform”. What started as the death of a street vendor spread like wild fire in North Africa and the Arab world. But the deep desire to reform was also notably witnessed in Myanmar driven by the new government in charge. New equations were also seen emerging in East Asia where a new cold war seems to be brewing between America and China.
The hot spot of the year: The Arab Spring which has now lasted the whole year and will do so in 2012-created the most dramatic of the changes where regime changes were forced by the people. Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Egypt topped the charts albeit with turbulence still persisting in Libya and Egypt. Syria, Yemen and Bahrain continue to be at war with themselves as yet because of the anarchic stands taken by the existing regimes. As per current trends, Political Islam is sweeping across the region. The Arab Spring apart from changing the countries will likely have its worst international impact on Israel as Egypt opts for an Islamist anti Jew dispensation. This would alter the Middle East equations with US jumping into the fray.
Iraq and the renewed Sunni – Shia standoff post US pullout is likely to have serious repercussions on the ethnic map of the region. In the worst case scenario we may see Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia attempting to alter the political geography of the region with Israel once again at the wrong end of the stick.
The war in Af Pak did not progress as planned by the US. The US – Pakistan standoff over a range of issues worsened the situation where Pakistan appears placed to extract maximum leverage from US towards a Taliban friendly dispensation backed and dominated by Pakistan. The dirty picture emerging in Af Pak has US fighting for influence with major stakeholders such as China backed Pakistan and Iran who are also mutually at war with themselves. Both these countries are instrumental in finding a face saving formula for the US to resolve the crisis and affect a graceful exit. US Iran standoff again has its roots in Israel.
Simultaneously the missile and nuclear technology regime in Pakistan and Iran backed by China and Korea with Saudi Arabian interests have further complicated the muddled waters of the Kabul River.
In the east, the APEC and East Asia Summits highlighted the simmering battle for space in South East Asia between US and China. The Trans Pacific Partnership initiative taken up by US had China frowning. The regional countries are currently in a dilemma as they depend on China for their economies and US for their security. The impact of this changing dynamic is likely to shape alliances in the region in 2012 and beyond. Power transition in Korea at the end of the year is another event which would be capitalised by China as it doesn’t want a Korean reunification overseen by US.
The world is going to change at a faster pace in 2012 courtesy events of 2011.
How will this impact South Asia?
First off, the Af Pak imbroglio is going to have countries of the region witness a global battle fought on their backyard with renewed vengeance. The impact of US Iran standoff will directly influence the oil flow in the region from Iran. This will specifically impact Indian economy as Iran accounts for most of Indian oil imports after Saudi Arabia.
The US Pakistan standoff will directly or indirectly rope China in – not that it is not influencing events in the region by being Pakistan’s most trusted friend. However, its renewed interests to battle for influence in Afghanistan with Pakistani help will exacerbate tensions with US. China’s pro Iran policy will further compound US problems and force them to maintain permanent presence in Afghanistan well after 2014. If Iran goes nuclear in the meanwhile there would be no withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Russia is also flexing its muscle at a time when Pakistan has blocked NATO supply routes through Tokham and Chaman posts. If Russia carries through its threat of closing the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), America would be hard pressed to maintain current levels of forces in Afghanistan.
The cumulative effect of these would be Pakistan gaining extraordinary influence over events in Afghanistan especially over future Taliban led dispensation with firm control over Taliban. Under such conditions US bases would hardly be fruitful when the Tajik dominated ANA and ANP are likely to disintegrate under the Taliban influence. Pakistan wants a weak central government in Kabul which can be manipulated at will. This is a positive route through which it can achieve its aim. This would get its tail up to concentrate on Kashmir.
Indirectly, it would increase Chinese influence in South Asia ably assisted by Pakistan. But as internal incidents in Pakistan indicate, we may see a process of military tightening its grip over the political process – something which may give rise to a political change – may be led by Imran Khan who apparently is bowling for the military supported by hardliners.
Accordingly, Kashmir would see a heightening of tensions soon after the Pak military gains it’s so called moral and physical ascendency over US in Afghanistan. 2011, the year of rest, may make way for more violence in Kashmir in 2012.
Wily nily the region will find itself engulfed in more global rivalries led by US with China and Iran propped up by Israel. The global melt down and weak economic progress in the region will continue to depress the already weak sentiment with greater propensity for conflicts. Myanmar may open up some more to accentuate the US China cold war.
India would do well to use its interlocutory skills to get US and Iran to come together to prevent another West vs Islamic conglagaration flaring up. A move whch needs urgent attention in 2012.
- Af Pak – The Iran Factor (southasianidea.com)
- TIME.com Primer: The Taliban and Afghanistan (time.com)
- NATO Strike and US Pakistan Relations (southasianidea.com)
- Afghanistan’s Options (southasianidea.com)
- Looking into the New Year – what can we look forward to in 2012? (fabiusmaximus.wordpress.com)