South Asia: Facing a Challenging Security Transition By Srimal Fernando
IndraStra Global

South Asia: Facing a Challenging Security Transition By Srimal Fernando

Regional Map of South Asia 
By Srimal Fernando
Threats to national security are a global issue facing the world presently. Of the 7 billion people of the world 1.4 billion live in South Asia. Even though many parts of the region are peaceful and trouble-free there are still potential threats to national security in many South Asian countries. If right steps are taken by the law enforcement agencies of the respective governments and the rule of law can be applied in peace operations such acts of violence that threatens national security can be prevented. The paper examines the Indian elections in a comparative manner and efforts taken by the new leadership in New Delhi to improve the overall relations and the situation across South Asia. In addition the paper offers the policymakers a brief lesson on the current security situation from the eight South Asian countries.
National Elections of India
The world watched the closely contested elections of India in much anticipation on May 16th, 2014. India home to the world’s largest democracy with more than 830 million voters chose to elect 543 members to the 16th Loksabha elections. By late evening on May 16th, 2014 the Barathiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) recorded the a massive election victory. The Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) Sensex lifted to a record figure of 24,121.74 points as the Narendra Modi led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won the historic elections in India.
The Barathiya- Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) the main opposition party in India emerged victorious winning 336 Loksbha seats with a 38.3 percent vote share. The major political partners of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) comprised of Barathiya Janata Party (BJP), Shiv Sena (SS), Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Lok Janashakthi Party (LJP), Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLS).
The Barathiya Janata Party (BJP) vote share in the Loksabha elections made inroads into crucial states in North India. The State of Uttar Pradesh is considered India’s most populace state with the highest number of Loksabha seats. In Uttar Pradesh alone the Barathiya Janata Party increased their vote bank and representation to 71 out of 80 Loksabha seats. While being overjoyed at the Loksabha election results Narendra Modi the Barathiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Minister in waiting said in his victory speech India has won! This is India’s victory. “Achche din aane waale hain (The good days are ahead).
Compared to previous elections the India National Congress (INC) and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) saw its Loksabha vote bank erode to 61 Loksabha seats with 23 .3 percent vote share in 2014 . The major regional parties such as All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) of Tamil Nadu State , Trinamool Congress (TMC) of West Bengal State and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) of Odisha made significant gains in the Loksbha elections . All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party led by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J.Jayalalitha won 37 Lok Sabha seats out of 39 seats .
The Baharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been vocal and had clearly stated that it wants to improve relations with India’s neighbors. Narendra Modi the Prime Minister designated has extended invitations to the South Asian leaders to attend the swearing in ceremony on May 26th ,2014 in New Delhi. Eight South Asian heads of states were invited to the new Indian Prime Minister’s swearing-in ceremony. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s participation added a new dimension to the India –Pakistan relations. It was a historic moment where the time has grown to heal the wounds between the two nuclear armed neighbors who fought three wars since Independence from Britain in 1947.
Security situation Of South Asia
Even though the newly elected Prime Minister of India is trying to foster friendly relations and lessen tension with neighbors there are potential threats to national security of India. Among them Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Hizbul Mujahideen Kashmiri terrorist groups have caused serious threats to the national security of India. Among the eight South Asian countries India a nuclear armed nation with more than a million strong army personal spends nearly 37 billion American dollars annually for national defense. Decades-old hostility between Pakistan and India continues to serve as the backdrop for instability and tension across South Asia. The state of Kashmir is divided between the two nuclear armed countries is at the heart of hostility between the neighbors and was the cause of two of their three wars since independence from Britain in 1947. Also the growing Chinese influence in the Indian ocean countries such as the Maldives and Sri Lanka in the recent years has created a uneasiness for India not only from it northern boarders ,but also from the South. The Palk Bay, which connects northern Sri Lanka and the central part of the Tamil Nadu coastline, constitutes a unique ecosystem. It is a shallow bay circumscribed by sea known for its biodiversity (Venkataraman 2004). Crossing International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) by the Indian fishermen for fishing in Sri Lankan waters has added a new dimension to current situation. This has brought Indian trawler fishers into regular conflict with the Sri Lankan navy has created tension in the Tamil Nadu state of India. Nowadays India is responding to internal and external security challenges with great creativity to enhance new patterns of global cooperation and partnership .These cooperation’s with countries by the newly elected government of India will see a transformation in regional security strategies that will bring stability and improve the overall situation across South Asia.
Pakistan saw a revival of the Political order coming to dominate the entire country in the past six months under the leaderships of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The national security of Pakistan is challenged by internal and external terrorist threats even though the countries defense budget had been increased to 627 billion Pakistani rupees for the coming financial year. In recent years there has been a high threat from terrorism, kidnappings and sectarian violence throughout Pakistan.
The efforts to negotiate a peace deal with the Tehreek-e-Taliban ( TTP) or Taliban was a fitful peace and the prospect for Pakistan was gloomy. In the wake of a Taliban attack on the Karachi international airport on June 2014 the Pakistani military launched an assault on the militant hideouts in Northern Waziristan in the North-west of the country. Especially given the ongoing Pakistan military actions in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) it is estimated that more than 300,000 civilians have fled the region .In the recent months there had been regular fire exchanges between the Line of Control (LoC) in the India and Pakistan border. The state of Kashmir in the Indian side mostly Muslim Himalayan region of Kashmir is at the heart of hostility between the neighbors for the past six decades. The invitation extended to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to witness the swearing in ceremony of Narendra Modi the Indian Prime Minister designated has fostered new kind of linkage across the boarders . The regular United States (US) led drone strikes from Afghanistan causes pressure on the countries government. In the recent past the Government of Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of carrying out terrorist acts in Afghanistan.
The complicating United States (US) -led efforts to end an intensifying Taliban insurgency has been the main root cause of bringing the required stability to Afghanistan. The US and British led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdrawal would give Taliban an upper hand in Afghanistan. This also could give an opportunity for anti-Indian militants to use Afghanistan as a base. The main goal of the Islamist groups operating in Afghanistan is to re- establish sharia law in Afghanistan. Most of these groups are allied with the Taliban and wants full withdrawal of foreign forces from their country and see the fall of the Afghan central government. Threats are issued by the insurgents on an almost daily basis. The insurgents conduct frequent and widespread lethal attacks against the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) and around places where large public crowds gather. Perhaps most notably the year 2014 marked the most challenging year for domestic politics and the country will experience a change in leadership. The presidential election has been deadlocked by allegations of widespread fraud. The presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah who is of mixed ethnicity, owes much of his support to ethnic Tajiks, has regularly complained that his opponent, Ashraf Ghani an ethnic Pashtun, with the help of the Afghan Independent Election Commission and other Afghan officials, rigged the vote. The Afghan Independent Election Commission has so far postponed the results on more than one occasion to help ease the political crisis in Afghanistan.
Sri Lanka
Even though the war in Sri Lanka between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had ended, the main problem based on ethnicity is still remains . In certain areas of the Northern and Eastern provinces, life has come to a reasonable life like in the other areas of the country. With availability of more consumer goods and better housing the desperate situation of people in these provinces are being alleviated. In Sri Lanka, there are still potential threats to national security. Recovery of an arms cache, and shooting incident involving LTTE terrorist named K.P Selvanayagam a.k.a Gobi is evidence on attempts to reorganize and re-arm the terrorist outfit. However the Sri Lankan Security forces were able to kill K.P Selvanayagam a.k.a Gobi and two other wanted terrorist in Nedunkerni area in April this year. Most Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fronts are coordinated by the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) with the overarching objective of reviving separatism. Their unwavering intent is the division of Sri Lanka and the establishment of a separate state for Tamil Eelam. Also crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line ( IMBL) that separates Sri Lanka and India by Indian fishermen for fishing in Sri Lankan waters has added a new dimension to the current maritime security situation. This has brought Indian trawler fishers into regular conflict with the Sri Lankan navy. There are the remnants of the radical groups that were involved in previous insurgencies in the South and are trying to re -organise within Sri Lanka and mobilise people to once again take up their extreme left wing causes. The Sri Lanka Government raised the defense spending to 1.95 billon American dollars for the current year due to threat of terrorism re-emerging.
Democratization and peace-building are closely inter liked. Political stability has been gradually restored in the former war shattered areas of the country. . The recently held Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections where the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) won majority of the seats have become a lens through which to observe the political changes in Sri Lanka.
In March 2014 Provincial Council elections were held in Western and in Southern provinces of the country. The United Peoples Front Alliance (UPFA ) the ruling party of the present government was able win 89 seats out of the 150 seats in both the provinces. Even though the main opposition party the United National Party (UNP) was able to win 42 seats ,it was the Democratic party and the Marxist Peoples Liberation Front also known as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) party that increased their vote bank and representation in the two provinces.
Sri Lankan Sunday Times newspaper reported on 22 June 2014 an assault and abuse of a Buddhist monk and his three wheeler scooter driver on 12th June 2014 who had been on their way to a religious ceremony by Muslims motorcyclist in Dharga Town triggered violence and had bred tension between the Muslim and Sinhalese communities living in the Southwestern part of Sri Lanka . Later more violence broke out where three persons were killed and another seventy persons wounded due violence. Troops were rushed to supplement police and Special task force (STF) commandos were deployed under a prolong curfew, to bring the situation under control. Although tensions have lessened, between the Muslims and Sinhalese communities there is a potential for the security situation to deteriorate again if right steps are not taken to prevent such incidences by the law enforcement agencies in the future.
Despite India’s abstaining the United States ( US) sponsored resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva which seeks to authorize the body to set up an independent international inquiry in Sri Lanka to probe into human rights violations during Sri Lanka’s civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009 was passed . With 23 members voting in favour of the resolution while 12 voted against on 27th March 2014. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted the resolution titled Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka requesting the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights to undertake a full investigation into alleged ,violations and abuses of human rights related crimes by parties concerned during the period covered by the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) which examined the final year of the Sri Lankan conflict . However a home grown solution is the best way to bring about reconciliation among the two ethnically divided communities. Therefore, it is necessary to build permanent Peace in Sri Lanka and steps should be taken soon as possible.
The Maldives
Nearly 100,000 ships pass through the Indian Ocean annually. The immediate threat to this vital shipping lane that handles sixty per cent of the world’s oil cargo and over fifty per cent of the world’s container traffic, has been facing piracy threats in the last few years . The Maldives and Sri Lanka are located very closely to this shipping lane. However the Maldivian authorities are currently detaining a number of individuals suspected to have been involved in piracy .After United States that has an air base in Diago -gracia pulls out by 2016the Maldivian Coast Guards needs to get more naval assets so that Maldives has the ability to patrol the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Government of Maldives led by President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa held official talks on the regional and international issues of mutual concern on June 2014 during a state visit by the Sri Lankan President to the Maldives . The current security situation in the Maldives is peaceful and trouble-free. As an emerging democracy, the Maldives faces challenges, and is vulnerable to external shocks to its nascent democracy.
The current Security situation in Bangladesh is peaceful on the surface . Although tensions have lessened, political differences between the ruling party and the opposition are unsettled .Political tensions between the Awami League-led Government and opposition parties led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Parties (BNP) led to 500 deaths in politically related violence in 2013. A general election, in which opposition parties did not participate, took place in January2014. After the Bangladesh government refused to put in place an impartial caretaker government ahead of the elections the main opposition party Bangladesh National Party (BNP) called the boycott . Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was sworn in for a third term along with twenty nine cabinet ministers. In 2013 a United Nations ( U.N) tribunal ended the territorial dispute between Bangladesh and Myanmar preventing a military conflict between the two sides. Focusing on national security the Government of Bangladesh signed a 1 billion American dollar defense deal with Russia for the purchase of anti-tank missiles, training fighters and helicopters. The country is to purchase its first submarine to improve its naval power in the Bay of Bengal. India shares 4000 kilometers of land border with Bangladesh and is an important neighbor . Both countries have witnessed significant forward movement in the bilateral relations with the visit by the new External Affairs Minister of India Shrimati Sushma Swaraj from June 25 to June 27.
Sushil Koirala, a leader of the Nepali Congress party, was elected prime minister in February 2014 after weeks of negotiations with the Unified Marxist-Leninist party of Nepal (UML). Path of political stability in Nepal would take a positive note after completing the ongoing constitution writing process as per the public aspirations of the Nepali people. Nepal hopes of better days for relations with India when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Nepal in the near future.
India-Bhutan relations have a long history. With a broader security agenda and a focus on South Asia the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi accompanied by External Affairs Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj paid a state visit to Bhutan from 15 to 16 June 2014 at the invitation of His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the King of Bhutan. The two-day visit to Bhutan, by Prime Minister of India was his first foreign destination since he took over, office in June . During this visit, India focused on “Bharat to Bhutan” or “B2B” diplomacy .
Democratization and peace-building are closely inter liked to see overall security situation of a country. Elections held in many parts of South Asia is a lens through which to observe the Political stability and the changes in governance that is taking place in the region and have a impacts on the national security of a country or the region . There are several remnants of the radical groups present in South Asian countries who are involved in insurgencies and acts of terrorism. If one is to analyze the current security situation of South Asia, the region is facing a challenging security transition. However with this likely scenario policy makers must focus on ways to make necessary legislative changes to strengthen the foreign policy, the economy and the national security of a country.
This article was first published at NOHA Student Alumni Website