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Editor-in-Chief's View on Global Security and Role of ThinkTanks

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has been involved in military operations for over a decade in Afghanistan. This makes it possibly the longest active combat campaign undertaken by NATO. For all its bad press and worse social impact on account of extraordinarily large, albeit accidental, civilian casualties, the NATO campaign has not been a failure.

In large measure it has brought a semblance of peace in some areas of Afghanistan. Girls continue to go to school in Afghanistan, the single most important indicator of progress in that beleaguered country. But it hasn’t been a welcoming environment for NATO, both within and outside of Afghanistan.

Many Asian countries have looked at the Afghanistan operations with microscopic lenses. Using a fine tooth comb to get into the roots, these countries have drawn some interesting lessons from the continued NATO operations in Afghanistan. The presence of NATO in Afghanistan causes serious stress to some countries and burning the midnight oil they come up with their responses, that may or may not be logical or in India’s interests. A strange coalition has come up on account of NATO’s military operations in Afghanistan; a coalition that has no precedence in Asia’s sociologically driven historical senses.

The energy in Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is an Asian response to NATO’s continued presence in Afghanistan, specifically and in Asia generally. Driven by a paranoia shared amongst hitherto distant neighbours, the SCO seeks to display an Asian unity that is remarkable for its historical absences. While there is no denying that it was Chinese paranoia at its peak which propelled the idea of having the SCO, there was still a common concern amongst other neighbouring nations. Russia for one was never going to be too welcoming to the idea of having NATO sitting for over a decade in its backyard and neither were the recently independent Central Asian Republics who continue to find some common grounds with Moscow on security matters.

In such a scenario where Indian interests lie is a matter of great concern and importance. Even as it sought and was granted observer status at SCO, Indian interests are not necessarily served by being a part of this competition. While it is a fact that NATO’s operations are targeting the same players who view India as enemy land, there is nevertheless a requirement of having a non-NATO option on the table. NATO in out-of-area operations is not a good sign for India or for the region as a whole. Even as it acts as a magnet for racist anti-Western Jihadists, NATO’s presence in Afghanistan is further testimony to the fact that there is no local or continental, option available. One that would be in a position to undertake the same level of operations as has NATO over the last more than a decade. An Asian alternative that was viable and vibrant in tackling the meltdown in Afghanistan that encouraged the Taliban to assume power. Such an option does not exist and that glaring absence is amply underlined by NATO’s continued presence in Afghanistan.

The SCO is not an Asian alternative to NATO and neither should it be allowed to become one. Begun with lofty ambitions there is no reason for India to remain too excited about SCO and its future. In a real sense multilateral military competition is not in India’s national interests, whatever organisations that may be involved. Indian interests lie in promoting ideas and platforms, that encourage ideals not necessarily differing drastically from NATO, but with Asian players. After all local problems can only be solved by local players. And when locals don’t do the job, the problems magnify, as do the nationalities of players involved.

India needs to push for a rewriting of the multilateral diplomatic and military framework in the region. But for that to happen India first needs to be prepared for that role. It needs newer ideas, newer thoughts and it needs players willing to get involved in trying newer processes. For all of that to happen India has to open its mind to such thoughts. There is a beginning that has been made with a burgeoning think tank sector, as well as platforms like Defence and Security Alert. All of them have to be given greater opportunity to interact and express their ideas and innovations, in order for India to be a greater player on the regional and world stage. India, after all, has to play the game in order to be in the big league.



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