Two developments stand out in 2015: The establishment of the ISIS in West Asia as a force capable of militarily resisting superpowers and the November terrorist attacks across Paris that proved how a small but suicidal group of terrorists could shatter the invulnerability of Europe. If these are portents, then 2016 will see the beginning of a new, more dangerous era.
3 regions of concern
South Asia remains the most heavily militarised region in the world and one where ethnic, religious and ideological fault-lines are deepening. In Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives, Islamic radicalisation is intensifying, pointing to years of future conflict. In 2016, the fissures within the region will only deepen despite political attempts to bridge them.
At another level, the Indian leadership’s initial attempts to build new channels of trust with neighbours appear to have faltered with India-Nepal relations hitting a historic low as Kathmandu accuses New Delhi of imposing an economic blockade. Relations with Sri Lanka and the Maldives too appear to be sliding. India’s foreign policy establishment seems exhausted with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s whirlwind visits which added up to a record twenty-three in 2015, or about two a month on average.
The most discouraging development is the return to the traditional dynamics of India-Pakistan rivalry. It could be back to the future in South Asia in 2016.
Events in West Asia eclipsed everything else: The IS emerged as the world’s public enemy No. 1, far worse than last century’s threat of the “Red Peril”. The self-publicised barbarity of the ISIS and its aim of cleansing the region of non-Sunnis and ethnic minorities such as the Kurds and Yazidis caused a seismic event in the region, uprooting millions and shaking the gates of Europe.
The most sinister part of the entire crisis is the role of Turkey, a Nato ally, through which the ISIS has built a lifeline, funnelling stolen oil from Iraqi oilfields and receiving limitless quantities of weapons in exchange. Ankara’s attempts to bring down the Syrian regime at any cost led to Moscow’s military intervention in Syria.
Europe is rattled as never before: millions of Muslims from conflict zones pounding on its gates and an internally disaffected and radicalised Muslim hard-core seeking to create mayhem from within. Dealing with Muslim immigrants and rising domestic terrorism will challenge the European polity and invariably draw it tighter into the West Asian cauldron. Any geopolitical miscalculation there could be catastrophic.
Bird’s eye view of 2016
With turmoil hitting the world in 2015, Things seem gloomy for the coming year
A tumultuous Neighbourhood
Europe is at the centre of a vortex of instability with troubled North Africa in its south, a war-torn West Asia and a divided Ukraine in the east. The effect is a stream of desperate Muslim refugees battering at its gates and domestic terror groups owing allegiance to the ISIS.
- ISIS: How a ragtag bunch of Wahhabi fanatics coalesced into one of the world’s most formidable military forces is a mystery that will not be revealed in the immediate future, but it is clear that they are here to stay.
- Big Power Rivalry: The biggest danger in 2016 is the possibility of a big power collision in the region. The US and its European allies have been covertly supporting Islamist radicals to upset anti-West regimes in the Arab world.
- Big Power Rivalry: Turkey: The right-wing Erdogan government is bent on destroying the Assad regime and the rebellious Kurdish militias through not-so-covert support to the ISIS.
- Shia-Sunni Conflict: An added fault-line is a sectarian one, evident in the conflict in Syria, splintered Lebanon, Iraq, Houthi-controlled Yemen and disaffected Bahrain.
- Bhutan: This tiny Himalayan monarchy was the only peaceful spot in the subcontinent and is likely to stay that way for the immediate future.
- India: Kashmir continues to fester as the Valley’s next generation gets increasingly radicalised and Pakistan keeps up heat. Sustained complaints of intolerance fuel anxiety amongst minorities and liberals.
- Sri lanka: The Sinhala-dominated government continues to drag its feet on reforms aimed at giving more rights to its minority Tamil population.
- Maldives: This tiny island nation continues to be gripped by a protracted political crisis that has splintered the country.
- Bangladesh: The fracture between the ruling Awami League and Jamaat-e-Islam (JeI) widens as several JeI 1971 war criminals are hanged.
- Nepal: Constitutional changes decreed by Kathmandu reveals a huge chasm between the Madhesis of the Terai region and the rest of the Nepalese population.
- Pakistan: The military shows no sign of letting up on its policy of supporting militants to carry out attacks in Indian Kashmir and Afghanistan.
- Myanmar: It makes big strides towards a democratic government but the military junta continues to hold the reins of the economy and security.
- Decline of mainstream: Perhaps the most dismaying long-term trend is the decline of mainstream political parties that have so long upheld European values and systems.
- Economic Slowdown: Europe is barely growing and real incomes are down. Greece remains fiscally challenged as do Portugal, Spain and others.