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Book review
South Asian views on an epic struggle
IP Khosla
Former IFS Officer

South Asia and the War on Terrorism: Analysing the Implications of 11 September
Dipankar Banerjee and Gert W. Kueck (eds.)

New Delhi: India Research Press, 2003

Pages: 239
Price: 525

 

So much has been written on terrorism in the last year and a half that another book on the subject might it difficult to break new ground. South Asia sparked off, in many ways, the series of events that led to 11 September, and the changed international situation thereafter arguably had a more immediate and drastic impact on this region than on any other. With this in mind the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies in Colombo and the Konard Adenauer Foundation in New Delhi organised an international conference on the implications of 9/11 for the region. The papers there presented are brought together in this volume.

 

Despite the fact that the essays largely cover known ground, are welcome for their focused approach.The book throws light on national perspectives from countries that are more deeply entangled with the causes and consequences of the war on terrorism than most others. A common thread is provided by the manner in which regions and individual states- and not just in South Asia- sought to take advantage of the US desire for a global multilateral response under US leadership in the pursuit of this war. �There is no doubt that though the US undertook the bulk of the military effort in Afghanistan, and its partners were given such a subsidiary role that for the most part they were dispensable, however, the US wanted to be seen as the leader of an international coalition.

The very first essay by General Klaus Naumann, Chief of Staff of the German Federal Armed Forces, refers to the NATO becoming a global rather than merely a regional alliance. He adds that this never really led to anything, since the Americans wanted only political support, which was all that NATO gave during war. Nevertheless, the US and Europe now face a new and commonly perceived threat which gives the NATO the opportunity (with US help, the inevitable precondition) to become a truly indispensable alliance.

This is followed by the national perspectives of the South Asian countries, each in its own way expecting that well heralded support for the US would yield merited rewards. Bangladesh expected major trade concessions, especially for the garment industry facing crisis which worsened in the aftermath of 11 September. However, all Bangladesh got from the US was praise for its democracy and moderating the domestic hardline Islamic criticism of the US attacks on Afghanistan. As Farooq Sobhan wryly notes, trade concessions are determined primarily by political considerations.

Nepal fared slightly better, through some might say slightly worse. Lok Raj Baral sees this small Himalayan country turning into a zone of conflict or an international battleground for the major players of the world because of its geo-strategic location. Nevertheless, having declared an emergency in November 2001, Nepal proclaimed the Maoists as terrorists and brought out the army to fight them. The Government of Nepal received support from the US, which gave it an unprecedented political and diplomatic attention, supplied weapons, training and finance for the war on terrorism. But this dealt only with the consequences and not the causes of the Maoist insurgency. As Krishna Khanal says, the Maoist problem arose from misgovernance and the burden of solving it will be primarily on Nepal itself.

There is a well-enunciated and widely shared Pakistani view of being a victim, expressed here by Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema and Shireen M.Mazari. In their view, Pakistan benefited only in some minor ways; the sanctions were lifted, some financial help was given. But the most important consequence of the war on terrorism has been an Indo-US strategic understanding that has worked to Pakistan's disadvantage. India and the US are now collaborating in military matters, with joint exercises and the supply of sensitive equipment. Further, there is growing international disenchantment with the issue of self-determination which impact on the Kashmir question. India has become the core state in the US global strategic formulation. There have been other disadvantages; the government became unpopular at home, especially with the religious parties and groups; there were severe strains on an already fragile economy; and Pakistan's nuclear assets came under the possibility of threat from the US.

Essays by P.R.Chari and Varun Sahni reflect the Indian perspective. Chari points to the establishment of the US military presence in South and Central Asia and the likelihood of a permanent US involvement in the region; he also highlights the challenges of globalisation, the crisis of governance and the urgent need for an international agreement or convention on the subject of terrorism, with regional action and national legislation so that a firmly established body of law becomes the foundation for proceeding against terrorism. Sahni finds that events in the region now have an international impact; earlier it was the reverse since what happened internationally had impact on the region. However, in considering this new development, at the various analytical levels-domestic, interstate, regional and international-have become hopelessly intertwined in the aftermath of 11 September.

The US perspective, cogently argued by Satu P. Limaye, states that the region is back on its policy agenda as a consequence of 11 September. Even earlier, the Bush administration had focused on the 'big idea' of intensifying collaboration with India; Pakistan would not be ignored, but it would take second place. 11 September changed all that; Pakistan had to be in the front line of military and political action in Afghanistan, Musharraf took all the decisions needed to align Pakistan with the US and the latter was fulsome in its praise for his efforts. But the last months of 2001 and the early months of the next year also saw India-Pakistan tensions escalating. Here the US had to play a balancing role. And in trying to manage this difficult balance there was the risk of distraction from the main objective of the war on terrorism. Limaye avers that attaining the objectives of engagement with Pakistan and progress in US-India relations can be achieved simultaneously. This, however, is a conclusion on which time will pass judgment.

Two useful parts of the book cover Confidence Building Measures and Cooperative Security neither of which is directly connected to 11 September, though the essays in both parts do refer to it. The first broadly covers the preconditions, practice, problems and future prospects of CBMs in South Asia. A set of practical recommendations to restart the stalled India-Pakistan CBM's is listed It is noted that the European experience cannot be blindly replicated since conditions and the problems in this region are very different. The second tries to define what cooperative security could mean, especially for South Asia, and suggests how it can be achieved. The salience of the India-Pakistan relationship is not ignored but the essays in this section do focus more on the general requirements for putting in place an enduring cooperative security framework.

Overall, this collection of essays offers a regionally balanced view of the South Asian involvement with the consequences of the war on terrorism. A certain overemphasis on India-Pakistan issues is unavoidable. However, sections on Sri Lanka, which has been deeply impacted by terrorism, and on Bhutan, which too has suffered, would have further added to the value of the book.

 
 
 

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