The creeping invasion by authoritarian regimes will engulf Asia by 2020 as democracies continue to retreat. India is unprepared and unwilling to safeguard the Asian democratic space.
The growing clout of totalitarian regimes coupled with non-State actors is set to shrink the democratic space in Asia. If the onslaught is not reversed by the end of the next decade, Islamic fundamentalist regimes, Communist dictatorships, military juntas and non-State actors will redraw the international boundaries and largely govern Asia.
The squeeze on the democratic space in India will increase once the American forces begin to exit Afghanistan in July 2011. Islamic fundamentalists with the assistance of the sympathetic Pakistan army will take over Afghanistan and Pakistan. This Taliban stronghold will operate on a 'hub and spoke' principle to expand influence and territory. To begin with, India will lose $1.5 billion (about Rs 6,900 crore) worth of investment in Afghanistan, as it is unwilling to defend it.
Islamic fundamentalism will sweep into Central Asia once the American wall holding the spread disappears from Afghanistan. Gradually, the resource rich area will come under the spell of the dark forces. Russia will feel threatened. Americans and the International Security Assistance Force are in many ways fighting Russia's war.
Unlike New Delhi, Moscow is always willing to fight its way out!
Islamabad aims to create a caliphate with the help of the Islamic regimes running from Central Asia to West Asia and Southeast Asia. India stands in the way. Beijing desires to unravel India into multiple parts based on the pre-British model as it cannot digest the challenge to its supremacy offered in Asia by a liberal union of multi-religious and multi-ethnic States.
The simple truth is that Indian democratic values contradict and thereby pose a threat to the authoritarian philosophy of both, the Communists in Beijing, and the Islamic fundamentalists in Islamabad. Similarly, many regimes in Islamic West Asia feel uncomfortable with India's ability to generate unprecedented soft power. Regression to medieval times helps keep these autocratic regimes in the saddle.
The all-pervading Indian soft power, therefore, poses a serious challenge. Hence, Pakistan is supported by the petro-dollars dished out on a Wahabbi checkbook to neutralise the threat posed by liberal India.
It is obvious that if the Indian model wins, autocratic regimes like China and Pakistan lose.
Primarily, there have been no terrorist attacks on India after Mumbai 26/11 on two counts. First, the raging civil war within has kept Pakistan preoccupied. Second, the intervention of the American forces has forced diversion of the Pakistan army and its non-State actors's resources away from India. The stated exit of the Western forces beginning July 2010 from the Af-Pak region will render India extremely vulnerable.
The truth is that American forces in many ways are fighting India's war too. However, New Delhi's expectation that they will continue to fight such a war without India chipping is being naive.
While China and Pakistan have joined hands against India and bide their time for the American forces to leave, New Delhi has appealed to Washington not to exit from Afghanistan, but is unprepared and unwilling to assist. The Catch-22 is that neither the West led by America can win without Indian help nor can India prevail without a concrete alliance with the West.
New Delhi's strategic incoherence continues to encourage Beijing and Islamabad's designs of destabilising the Union. Militarily, India remains underprepared due to the huge equipment shortages on land, sea and air, created by the ministry of defence over the last two decades.
Shirking its primary responsibility of equipping the military leaves it ill equipped to cope with the increasing intensity of the threat once the Western forces retreat.
The stalemate in Afghanistan predominantly occurs on two counts. First, superior technology in a guerrilla war where motivational level of the adversary is very high, unless combined with adequate boots on the ground cannot deliver victory.
The West does not have a large reservoir of manpower to mitigate the situation. Thus, the under-manned war for past nine years has produced difficult-to-reverse battle fatigue despite the most modern technology on display.
The result is the resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda in the region. To win, a fair share of the soldiery needs to be drawn from Asian stock with equally high motivation and equipped with Western technology to surmount the challenge posed by Islamic fundamentalists.
Second, to defend Afghanistan, the war machinery should focus on Pakistan. However, the American strategy in Afghanistan is similar to the Indian fortress mentality.
Despite multiple attacks and infiltrations by the terrorists, New Delhi continues to fortify itself internally in futile attempts to repulse the attacks. Washington's approach is similar in Kabul for the past nine years.
The Americans and the allied forces keep defending against the irregular guerrilla forces launched in to Afghanistan from Pakistan, clandestinely trained by the Pakistan army and its Inter Services Intelligence. The ghost forces from Pakistan, when attacked, disappear almost unscathed. They reappear in Kabul at will.
Washington and New Delhi cannot win since both refuse to face the fact that Pakistan is the problem.
To lend stability to Afghanistan, the threat from Pakistan covertly backed by China must be neutralised. Similarly to secure India, the joint threat from Pakistan and China needs to be resolved. In both, Pakistan is the common factor.
Beijing's Communists back the Islamic fundamentalists in Islamabad to expel the American influence and subdue the Indians, even as Pakistan draws oxygen for sustenance from the economic bailouts from the West.
Logic dictates that to defend Kabul, with the intention of expanding influence of democracies in Asia, the focus must shift to Islamabad. However, an exit by the American forces set for July 2011 from Afghanistan will herald the process of colouring Asia in a dark hue.
With the declaration of the exit time frame, Beijing and Islamabad are once again upbeat.
This leaves India in lurch, as it is ill prepared to face the threat jointly posed by Islamic fundamentalists that includes the Pakistan army and the ISI, and the Chinese Communists. Both support the Maoists in Nepal and the non-State actors including the Maoists in India.
New Delhi therefore faces a simultaneous three-dimensional threat, -- the external war on two fronts, worsening internal front aided by external actors, and lack of governance.
Bharat Verma is editor, Indian Defence Review