SECURITY OUTLOOK IN INDIA’S NEIGHBOURHOOD Review of South Asia – 2016

India is the central and most diversely populated entity of the South Asian region, and as such, incidents and events in the region have a direct or indirect bearing on India’s security environment. The security risks in South Asia are often dictated by its complex ethnic construct, its religious diversity, its colonial legacy, and increasingly by external influences like religious terrorism.

The term South Asia traditionally denotes countries located in the sub- Himalayan region. In the classical geopolitical context, South Asia has become synonymous with SAARC, and includes the countries of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives. However for this report, Myanmar is also included as part of the region as it has strong linkages to the region, serves as the gateway to South-East Asia, and incidentally has applied for full membership of SAARC

South Asia is home to over one fifth of the world’s population (the largest market), immensely diverse on all counts (geography, religion, ethnicity, and economy), rich in resources (human and natural), and dominates the Indian Ocean through which moves more than 80 per cent of the world’s seaborne trade in oil. It is also the most ‘consistently’ turbulent region in the world, containing the Af-Pak region (the epicentre of terrorism), two hostile nuclear powers, multiple insurgencies, vast population of illiterate and unemployed youth, and potential for catastrophic natural disasters (earthquakes, floods and epidemic). Also significant in this context is internal political instability of most of the countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives and Myanmar) for its uncertain impact on the security environment. The withdrawal of US troops from the region presents many uncertainties as regards security, economy, and domestic politics.However, it is Islamic terrorism that dominates the security concerns in the region. Taliban and al Qaeda continue to have their bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The upsurge of Islamic State (IS) has ambitiously led the group to proclaim its sub-Caliphate in the South Asian Region as ‘Wilayat Khurasan’. In Afghanistan, it has gained limited control of territory and is engaged in a turf war with the Taliban. In Pakistan, the group has established links with already established terrorist groups in the country and is coordinating attacks with them. In Bangladesh too, the group has taken responsibility for some attacks including one on a foreign national. There is also the everincreasing trend of South Asians travelling to Syria and Iraq to take part in the fighting. Although the number of foreign fighters from South Asia remains low as compared to those from other parts of the world, the possibility remains high, of South Asian fighters joining the IS’s fight, not just in Syria and Iraq, but also back home in South Asia. There has been either unwillingness or incapability on part of the governments and security forces in these countries to undertake decisive actions against the terrorist groups operating on their soil.

Afghanistan, a landlocked country that shares its borders with six countries, has witnessed large-scale political instability and conflicts since the Soviet invasion of 1979. The government in Afghanistan has struggled to extend its authority beyond the capital, and the security situation in the country continues to remain volatile.Of late, adding to complexity, is the emergence of Islamic State (IS) on the country’s domestic terror scene. The growing influence of the IS in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan has turned this region into the battleground of a “turf war” between Islamic State and Taliban. The two groups are likely to continue to fight for territorial gains, which are also linked to economic gains of controlling the lucrative opium and mining trade in the region. The most critical challenge for the present Afghanistan government is to stop the Taliban from gaining more ground, maintain law and order in the regions that are under its authority and control, while forging and sustaining national unity among the various ethnic groups (Pashtuns being the largest, followed by Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks).

Terrorism in Pakistan is an immensely complex multi-dimensional phenomenon with many sub-texts to include the impact of what goes on in the Af-Pak region, the internal Sunni-Shia fault line and the rise of IS. Incidents of sectarian attacks on the minority Shia community continue to dominate headlines. The Pakistani Taliban or TTP

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