Friday, January 6, 2012

The Growing Concerns in our Neighborhood


Two recent developments in our neighborhood should raise concerns. First India moved to shut down an independent regulatory agency that had monitored its nuclear program for the last twenty eight years and secondly Iran threatened to close the Persian Gulf by closing the Straits of Hormuz if it was attacked. In a move that is sure to raise world wide concerns India terminated the independent agency that oversaw its entire nuclear industry.

This agency had monitoring and regulating responsibility independent of government control and had existed for the last twenty eight years. It had international credibility. The replacement of this agency is a government controlled structure that inevitably raises concerns about India’s intentions. There is sure to be less transparency and expansion of the nuclear program will be easier and largely hidden. 

This move comes just as India is negotiating with Australia for uranium imports and has already made arrangements with several other countries. The speculation is that India made this move after extracting full benefits from the controversial single country specific Us-India Civil Nuclear Technology Agreement with the United States.

The Agreement left at least eight military nuclear facilities unsafeguarded and gave India access to nuclear fuel imports freeing its own resources for a concealed nuclear expansion program. 

India’s move to end the independent agency also raises concerns about environmental degradation and safety especially after the catastrophic accident in Japan. 

In a special briefing the Iranian Naval Chief said that Iran could close the Straits of Hormuz thereby threatening the massive oil flows through the Persian Gulf. The Iranian threat comes after talks about military action against Iran by either the US or Israel or both. 

Such an extreme step would warrant extreme retaliation especially in what is an asymmetric environment. 

The sanctions against Iran are hurting and Iran is developing a comprehensive deterrent strategy to the treats it perceives to its security. Yet another concern could be the situation in Afghanistan.

A suicide attack in the northern Afghan city of Taluqan went largely unnoticed though it caused serious casualties. This has to be seen in the context of the closure of the Southern Distribution Network for logistics through Pakistan and the US reliance on the Northern Distribution Network through Central Asia. The Taliban may shift operations to the north to interdict logistics and this may be on a far bigger scale than what they were doing in the south. 

Also the US-Pakistan relationship remains uncertain especially after the US report on the Salala incident where a US/NATO attack killed 24 Pakistanis. With the Al Qaeda marginalized in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the US making overtures to the Taleban the reconciliation track is picking up steam.

Recently the US Vice President stated that the Taleban were not enemies of the US and more recently Mullah Omar the Taleban leader has been taken off the list of wanted terrorists. 

Pakistan has always considered the Taleban as having only a domestic agenda within Afghanistan and in its view the war in Afghanistan is destabilizing the region and is no longer in US interest.

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