The Wakeup Call

What does the coming "war" against terrorism mean for South Asia?

A geopolitical realignment is now occurring in South and Central Asia. This is clear even if the end result is not. Where Afghanistan and Pakistan once stood on the fault line between competing powers and survived the "Great Game" by playing one against the other, now the self interest of many countries is coming together violently in their rugged highland s. The US and Europe energised by the attacks in New York, Russia facing instability in Chechnya and the former Soviet Republics, China worried over the discontent of ethnic minorities in Xingjiang Province, many Muslim nations with populations divided by differing interpretations of Islam and, of course, India tense over Pakistan, Kashmir and its own internal religious-ethnic divisions; all have interests in the region.

The geopolitical shift is of a new type. Where once states were arrayed against each other, now the conflict—at least at its start—is between broad, loosely allied, coalitions of states and elements of their own populations. Will it continue to develop in this direction? Many point to the risk of a Third World War. While global politicians and some religious leaders (such as the Pope) struggle desperately to ensure that this is not perceived as a fight between Islam and the West, the world is dangerously close to doing this. If it occurs, only a few countries are likely to fall unequivocally on one side or the other. Other countries, such as India with its huge Muslim population embedded in an even larger Hindu-dominated polity, are likely to find that the battle ground is as much internal as external. In any case, the pressure of newly-realigned global interests- and the inevitable military action-are likely to tear open the many divisions within and between countries that have been papered over in the past. Where will it all lead? That is anyone's guess, but the starting point for understanding probably lies in Pakistan.

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