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Conflicts that may erupt The Statesman 11 Jan 2022
An article was published on 29th Dec 2021 by the Brussel headquartered International Crisis Group titled ‘10 conflicts to watch in 2022.’ The group has been releasing similar papers for the past few years. These are intended to act as a warning to global powers on regions where conflicts could cause lasting damage and deserve attention. The current paper lists Ukraine, US-China, Haiti, Yemen, Ethiopia, Iran-US-Israel, Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine, Myanmar and Islamist militancy in Africa as major conflicts to observe. It has ignored the Indian subcontinent, including the ongoing Indo-China standoff as a potential area for conflict.
The International Crisis group, established in 1995, possesses a staff of over 100 experts, drawn from all walks of life, spread across most trouble spots including Africa, West Asia and central America. China is covered in its field reports while it only monitors India. Shiv Shankar Menon, a former Indian diplomat and national security advisor, is a trustee on the board of the group. The intention of the Crisis group, as per its website is, ‘our work is urgently needed as the world is confronted with both new and chronic existing conflicts, each of which has devastating humanitarian, social and economic costs.’ Basically conflicts which impact non-combatants resulting in humanitarian crises remain their core concern.
The article also stated that the possibility of a US-China conflict over Taiwan is unlikely in 2022. It adds, ‘the Chinese and U.S. military’s increasingly bump up against each another around the island and in the South China Sea, with all the peril of entanglement that entails.’ Their assessment is that China would continue to bluff and threaten Taiwan but not cross global red lines.
It also states that Putin may gamble another incursion into Ukraine and a collapsed Iran-US nuclear deal could draw in Israel spreading the conflict into West Asia. There is no doubt that US-Iran talks are failing, and the west may not agree to the terms laid down by Putin for reducing tensions on Ukraine. An added observation is that weakening US military power enhances global instability.
While it has not made any mention about the Indian subcontinent, the world considers this region as a possible flashpoint. In Dec last year, the Pentagon displayed concern over increased Chinese build up in the region. However, it remains confident that India would be able to contain Chinese misadventures. For years the globe considered an India-Pakistan conflict as a nuclear flashpoint. Pakistan’s first use nuclear policy, deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, continued support to terrorism and attempting to create an uprising in Kashmir has been assumed to be a trigger for a nuclear war.
The only year when the subcontinent was mentioned as a possible region for conflict was over Kashmir in 2020. This Crisis Group paper of Dec 2019 cited the Pulwama attack, Balakote air strike and abrogation of article 370 as causes for enhanced tensions. The paper mentioned that a terrorist strike with large casualties could result in an Indian conventional offensive. Tensions of 2019 continued through 2020, ending with declaration of a ceasefire in 2021. Despite the Indo-China standoff continuing from May 2020, there has been no mention of a possible Indo-China conflict.
There are a few reasons as to why the Indian subcontinent including the current Indo-China standoff has receded as a flashpoint in global eyes. The first is that the standoff is running into its second year and the LAC has largely stabilized, though talks leading to disengagement at remaining friction points have not yielded any results. However, the two sides remain in communication to prevent flare-ups. The level of forces on either side are sufficient to thwart misadventures. The second is that any escalation between the two nations would be localized with limited impact on non-combatants as the region remains remote and sparsely populated.
Thirdly, both nations are nuclear powers and possess the ability to destroy the other. India inducting its new AGNI series of missiles brings all major Chinese cities within its reach. This would act as a roadblock for any Chinese plans to expand the conflict. It leaves doors open for salami slicing small bits of territory, which would be retaliated by India, keeping the conflict localized.
Fourthly, China is aware that if it launches operations and fails to achieve its objectives, it could impact its global standing. Internally, China cannot sustain large casualties. The Indian occupation of the Kailash Ridge and determination to hold onto its position despite Chinese provocation, sent the right signals. Finally, the QUAD, growing tensions between the US and China over Taiwan would impact Chinese decisions.
Indo-Pakistan also not being considered as a conflict zone is due to the current ceasefire holding, the volatile situation in Afghanistan as also Pakistan’s western borders and its failing economy. Pakistan lacks resources to sustain any major conflict. Its oil reserves are insufficient to support operations. A further factor is that the Kashmir scenario is near normal and Pakistan’s backing to internal terrorism is failing with fewer takers. Pakistan is aware of Indian conventional military superiority and hence would avoid a showdown unless pushed. It would continue supporting terrorism and employing diplomacy to keep the Kashmir issue alive in global circles. However, would keep terrorism below levels of Indian tolerance.
Interestingly, the article correctly assessed that ‘states compete fiercely even when they are not fighting directly. They do battle with cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, election interference, economic coercion, and by instrumentalizing migrants.’ This is evident in the India-China and Indo-Pakistan scenario. With China a hybrid war and with Pakistan a global disinformation campaign backed by coordinated cyber-attacks is ongoing.
The International Crisis group’s emphasis remains conflicts impacting civilian population as evident with its listing of Haiti, Yemen, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Africa. It tends to ignore standoffs as it believes that these may not lead to conflicts. It is with this backdrop that the Indian subcontinent has not been considered as a major global flashpoint in the current year, though for the region, levels of tensions remain high, and possibility of conflict remains perpetually high.