Leadership: India and the Ring of Fire

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June 11, 2007: India, a regional superpower and the worlds largest democracy (with a population of over a billion), lives in a very rough neighborhood. India is surrounded by neighbors who are at war with themselves. In addition to that, India has some seriously violent internal dissidents of its own. As a result, India is changing its military and foreign policies. Oh, for the days of the Cold War, when life was so much simpler.

Consider what India has to deal with. Pakistan is fighting religious rebels and tribal separatists. In addition, there are religious factions fighting each other. Pakistan also supports separatist rebels in Kashmir, and religious terrorists throughout India. Pakistan denies it is doing this, but not very convincingly. Moving clockwise, we come across Nepal, which is undergoing a rebellion by Maoist communists. This would normally be a minor matter for India, because Nepal is a rather small country (26 million), but India also has a Maoist movement, which is causing major problems in central and eastern India. The Nepalese and Indian Maoists have cooperated with each other, and leftist Indian politicians are reluctant to crack down too hard on the Maoists. Next we have Bangladesh, a Moslem nation crippled by poverty and corruption, and with a growing Islamic radical movement. A larger problem is the growing number of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, crossing the border and settling down in remote areas of Indias northeast. Moving along, we come to Burma (also called Myanmar), where four decades of military dictatorship has produced poverty and several rebellions. Worse for India, Burma tolerates Indian rebels setting up camps on their side of the border. Finally, there is Sri Lanka, off the southern tip of India. There, Tamils (from southern India) are rebelling against the native Sinhalese majority. The Tamils were brought in by the British over a century ago, to work the tea plantations. The Sinhalese were not into that kind of hard labor, and the Tamils, as is usually the case with migrants, were. As the Tamils prospered, the Sinhalese resented it, and the backlash created lots of hard feelings and harsh treatment. Eventually it led to terrorism and armed rebellion. In some weeks, fighting in Sri Lanka kills more people than in more visible hot spots like Afghanistan.

Inside India, there are three major uprisings. In Kashmir, there is the separatist movement fueled by Islamic terrorists from Pakistan. In central India, there is the home grown Maoist movement, seeking social justice for poor Indians, and political power for themselves. In the northeast, tribal rebels seek independence from India, and the expulsion of millions of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, and legal ones from the rest of India.

In light of all this, India is changing a lot of its Cold War policies. First, India is no longer non-aligned. It has become quite close with Israel and the United States. What's remarkable about this is that Iran is still eager to get cozy with India. However, Iran sees India as a natural ally against the Arabs. The Arabs see India as a heathen (non-Moslem) regional superpower that is deserving of all the Islamic terrorism that can be thrown at it. China sees India as a potential regional rival. India sees a need to find some more friends. While still buying lots of weapons from Russia, India now has more economic ties with Europe and the United States. As with anything else, if you want to see where this is all going, follow the money. With India, the money is not only increasingly coming from America, Israel and Europe, but it is going into a modernized armed forces. This includes special operations and lots of electronics. It is a rough neighborhood, and one must be prepared.

 


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