[A] geopolitical turbulence … is steadily enveloping the South Asian region. Much of the turbulence is being commonly attributed to the concerns of the international community over radical Islam and terrorism in the region or over the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons or of the specter of the Pakistani state withering away into anarchy under the sheer weight of its current political difficulties. But the factors underlying the volatility go deeper than that.
What is becoming apparent is that a series of maneuvers by regional powers is gradually building up in the coming period. Arguably, the heightened tensions around Pakistan are as much a symptom of these geopolitical maneuvers as of an intrinsic nature. Democracy deficit, political assassination, ruling elites, misgovernance, corruption, popular alienation, poverty and economic disparity, religious fanaticism – these are common to almost all countries of the South Asian region. Pakistan is certainly not an exception.
At the epicenter of the geopolitical turbulence in the region lies the rapidly expanding strategic partnership between the United States and India. The developing US-India strategic axis is triggering a large-scale realignment among regional powers, especially involving Pakistan.
As a leading commentator of the official Russian news agency put it recently, “Not without help from the great powers, India has gone so far ahead in the sphere of arms that it is pursuing its national interests from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca archipelago. Islamabad justifiably believes that the United States is ready to support India’s claims to the status of a world power in exchange for its efforts to deter China and Iran … [while] Pakistan still remains the main partner of the United States and Western Europe in the region’s anti-terrorist coalition.” [complete article]
Another piece of the United States’ regional jigsaw is in place with the completion of a military base in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, just three kilometers from Bajaur Agency in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Pakistani intelligence quarters have confirmed to Asia Times Online that the base, on a mountain top in Ghakhi Pass overlooking Pakistan, is now operational. (This correspondent visited the area last July and could clearly see construction underway. See A fight to the death on Pakistan’s border Asia Times Online, July 17, 2007.)
The new US base is expected to serve as the center of clandestine special forces’ operations in the border region. The George W Bush administration is itching to take more positive action – including inside Pakistan – against Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda militants increasingly active in the area and bolstering the insurgency in Afghanistan. [complete article]
Islamic militants known as the Pakistani Taliban have extended their reach across all seven of Pakistan’s frontier tribal regions and have infiltrated Peshawar, the provincial capital, heightening U.S. concerns that an insurrection may be broadening in the nuclear-armed nation.
Fighting over the weekend spilled into previously peaceful parts of the tribal belt that borders Afghanistan and intensified in South Waziristan, Bajour and Mohmand. In Bannu, southwest of Peshawar, gunmen fleeing police took dozens of schoolchildren hostage for several hours Monday before tribal elders brokered a deal offering them safe passage, state-run television reported.
“It’s worsening day by day,” said Safraz Khan, a political scientist at the University of Peshawar. “People feel vulnerable. People feel scared.” [complete article]