M A I N   N E W S

Indiaís troubled neighbourhood
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 1
For every nation, a troubled neighbourhood has an inevitable conveyer belt effect that has a potential adverse impact on its well-being. The year 2006 signed off with a disturbing legacy that India could not ignore -- Pakistanís restive Baluchistan province, the lengthening dark shadows of the Taliban and the Al-Qaida in Afghanistan and return of a civil war situation in Sri Lanka.

PAKISTAN: In the year just gone by, Pakistan found itself involved in a two-front war against terrorism, with one in southwestern province of Baluchistan and the other in the tribal region on the Pakistani-Afghan border. The largest province, Baluchistan, and the tribal-dominated North West Frontier Province (NWFP), both bordering Afghanistan, continued to simmer. Both provinces remained in the grip of militancy in 2006, showing Islamabad still had a long way to go in its fight against terrorism and extremism.

In Baluchistan, there were 214 bomb explosions from January 1 to December 10 in which 175 persons were killed and hundreds injured, according to a South Asia Terrorism Portal. This is over and above the number of Baluch killed in Pakistan military operations. Between December 2005, when the Pakistan military launched its most recent assault on Baluchistan, and June 2006, more than 900 Baluch had been killed, 140,000 displaced, 450 political activists (mainly from the Baluch National Party) disappeared and 4,000 activists arrested.

The Baluchistan situation came to a boil when Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed on August 26 in a military operation in the Bhambore Hills, an area between the cities of Kohlu and Dera Bugti. Nawab Bugti (79) was the president of the Jamhoori Watan Party and the driving force behind the anti-government rebellion in Baluchistan. This was a rare instance in Pakistan of a government killing a political leader who had previously served in high official positions as that of a Cabinet Minister, Senator and Governor.

Since independence, Islamabad had come into an open conflict with Baluchis on four occasions - 1948, 1958, 1962, and, most bloodily, from 1973 to 1977, when a growing guerrilla movement had led to an armed insurrection that ravaged the province.

On September 5, the Pakistan Government entered into a peace deal with local tribal elders in North Waziristan, belonging to FATA, in an effort to end violence in the region and at the same time stop cross-border movement of militants. The Western media severely criticised the deal.

AFGHANISTAN: The Taliban and the Al-Qaida made rapid inroads throughout 2006. Insurgency in this country has killed nearly 4,000 persons this year, which is four times greater than last year.

For the first time in its 57-year history, NATO forces took command throughout Afghanistan in 2006. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) assumed command in southern Afghanistan in July and took over the eastern region in October.

However, the ground situation remained as bad as southern and eastern Afghanistan witnessed a steadily increasing influence of the Taliban and the Al-Qaida despite the presence of the 37-nation 32,000-strong ISAF. As many as 36 British soldiers were killed since Britain's deployment to the volatile southern Helmand province as part of ISAF in July this year. Canadian troops, which were stationed in the southern Kandahar province, suffered as high as about 30 fatalities since July.

Clearly, Afghanistan has plunged into the worst spate of bloodshed this year since the ouster of the Taliban regime five year ago. In a recent interview with Reuters, Taliban commander Mullah Obaidullah said the Taliban could fight for 20 years.

A stable Afghanistan is a strategic imperative for India. This is because history bears testimony to the fact that instability in Afghanistan is directly proportional to spurt in terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

SRI LANKA: The Norway-sponsored peace initiative lay in tatters in the year that just ended. The armed conflict between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE resumed with greater ferocity. On October 16, at least 99 Sri Lankan navy personnel were killed and over 100 wounded in a suicide bomb attack near Habarana, 173 km northeast of the capital Colombo.

There was a logjam over a proposal to devolve powers to the Tamils. The death of Anton Balasingham, the oldest confidant of LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, was another highlight of a tumultuous year for Sri Lanka.

The island nation also witnessed, for the first time in its history, a pact between its two main political parties, the now ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the main Opposition United National Party (UNP). The two came together to jointly resolve a resumed ethnic conflict that had already claimed over 65,000 lives.



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