The world today faces multiple threats from different directions.
Climate change is considered the most potent threat that is affecting the entire world and unless the countries collectively take measures to combat it by reducing the emissions, its ill effects will increase with the passage of time. The Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, commits its signatories to abide by the internationally binding emission reduction targets. The responsibility of decreasing these rests primarily with major powers and developed countries especially the United States, China and Russia being one of the the foremost emitters of greenhouse gases that cause the greenhouse effect. In terms of volume of emission the developing countries like India, Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria and Mexico may be producing comparatively less but are already having a serious impact on the environment and local economy. Unfortunately, in United States the Republican presidents have been averse to global treaties for short term gains. President Bush never submitted to the Kyoto Protocol and President Trump has withdrawn U.S. from the Paris Agreement. It is projected that there is a buffer of only eleven years before it would be impossible to reverse the ill effects of climate change. Fortunately, the Paris Agreement enjoys a far broader support and participation than the Kyoto Protocol. This is reflected in the strong commitment on part of the former Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Rapidly expanding global population poses a serious threat to humanity as a whole. World leaders will have to earnestly deal with the population problem now, otherwise in the coming decades life would be intolerable on earth. Population can be limited by use of medical technology that includes use of contraceptives and sterilization procedures. The other alternative is to increase productivity, especially of agricultural products through the use of modern farming techniques. According to the last census, Pakistan’s population is about 220 million. During the 1951 census West Pakistan’s population was 42 million while East Pakistan’s (now Bangladesh) was 66 million. In contrast, currently Bangladesh’s population is 165 million. The main reason attributed to the reduction in the country’s population is widespread education and empowerment of women. Rapid and uncontrolled rise in population would affect the security and well-being of Pakistan, and places huge burden on its scarce resources.
Cyberspace has become a new medium of conflict and major powers, especially the United States and Russia, are developing offensive and defensive measures to remain ahead of each other in this race. The U.S. Democratic leadership has been accusing Russia of meddling in American elections to favour President Trump. Several countries are being targeted with fake news and psychological warfare is being waged to weaken and confuse them. Iran and North Korea remain most vulnerable from U.S. attacks. U.S. and China also have a history of targeting each other in cyberspace. Since both these major powers have the ability to seriously damage each other’s systems they avoid engaging in cyber conflict to a great extent and this restraint would continue.
The U.S.’ strategic alliance with India is primarily meant to counter China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region. The U.S. has shown a tendency in the past to overlook Pakistan’s strategic predicaments due to out of proportion support to India using the Chinese pretext. It will empower India to a level that can put other regional states’ interests in jeopardy.
Organized criminal gangs use cyberspace to deepen and expand their nefarious activities.
In the future cyber warfare will be a major tool and widely used to influence the outcome of conflicts by weakening the power of enemy.
In the India-Pakistan context where tensions are running high, fake news flourishes are giving rise to the prospect of skirmishes escalating into a serious conflict. With PM Modi’s present state of belligerence toward Pakistan, to expect developing a common understanding to reduce tension seems highly remote.
There are other major security threats that the world would face in the coming years. The Muslim militant organizations Al-Qaeda, Islamic State (ISIS), Taliban and several militant outfits on their own or as variants of these will remain active, especially in unstable and chaotic states like Syria, Yemen and several African states. It is apparent that repressive and ungoverned states are more vulnerable to these groups.
The recent development in which President Trump withdrew U.S. troops from Kurdish-held territory in Northern Syria has opened a critical strategic space to Turkey to expand its influence in the region. It has, however, given some hype to the Kurd issue which can be exploited to create further divisions in the region.
The Iran-Saudi rivalry for influence in the Middle East will continue. They will support opposing sides in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. The rivalry manifests in other Middle Eastern and African countries including Bahrain, Qatar, Lebanon and Afghanistan. These conflicts have several dimensions i.e., geostrategic and political, economic, and sectarian. America is backing Saudi Arabia and UAE while Russia and China are supporting Iran and its allies. This unfortunate division in the Muslim world has weakened Muslim countries individually and collectively. It has provided an opportunity for major and regional powers to exploit the situation to their advantage. These discords will cast a shadow in 2020 and beyond, placing Pakistan in a difficult position.
Rivalry among major Muslim countries has given considerable leverage to Israel for extending its influence and reach in the Middle East. A glaring example of this is Israel’s annexation of Palestine that has passed without much resistance. This unjust act is being overlooked by Saudi Arabia and UAE due to their rivalry with Iran but has caused deep anguish among the Muslims worldwide. The suffering of the Palestinian people may be suppressed for a while but it could find expression in more dangerous ways in the future.
The BJP government’s discrimination toward Muslims has assumed dangerous proportions. They are being de-franchised, discriminated and stripped of their citizenship. They are the largest minority in India, constituting 16% with as large a population as that of Pakistan. Already there have been serious repercussions to these policies with the agitation spreading to several states. It is encouraging that Indians of different faiths including Hindus realizing the dangers inherent in BJP government’s policy of pursuing a Hindu nationalist agenda are agitating in several major cities. What is rather disturbing is that the major powers for expedient reasons are overlooking BJP government’s open discrimination and hostility toward Muslims.
Considering that the U.S. and several Western governments are pursuing prejudicial policies against Muslims, to expect any reaction from their side regarding Indian hostilities would be futile. Moreover, they have major economic and strategic interests that would prevent them from expressing any negative views on Indian policies.
These considerations notwithstanding, the likelihood is that Modi’s ambition to convert India into a Hindu state will continue to be met with serious resistance from Muslims and secular and fair minded political parties and people of India. To divert attention from the domestic security situation it is expected that BJP government would intensify firing on the Line of Control (LOC). It is already over a year and a half since the situation on the LOC has been highly dangerous as casualties on both sides keep mounting.
With Kashmir under complete lockdown Modi is testing the nerves of Kashmiris as to how long they can stand this pressure. Thousands of young Kashmiris have been arrested and hundreds have died while defying India’s cruel siege. The most serious aspect of his anti-Muslim policies is that he thinks he will be able to overcome the opposition.
The future of Afghanistan remains unpredictable in 2020 as civil war continues. It has been the longest war in American history and the U.S. is no closer to defeating the Taliban or to work out a peace agreement. The deadlock may continue, meanwhile, U.S. will keep withdrawing its forces from the current level of 12,000 to 8,000, or even less, and rely on using its firepower and intelligence sources to assist Afghan security forces. The controversy emanating from the recent presidential election is going to get worse as President Ghani’s rival Abdullah Abdullah has challenged the reliability of the elections.
Pakistan will have to increase its security on the Western border to prevent influx of refugees and infiltration of militant groups.
On the global front, U.S.’ formal withdrawal from the key nuclear treaty with Russia has given rise to the possibility of a new arms race and unpredictability at the strategic level. The treaty banned the use of missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km. United States and NATO accuse Russia of having violated the treaty by deploying a new type of cruise missile that Russia denies. Moreover, with accusations of Russia meddling in U.S. elections, the relations between the two super-nuclear powers are unlikely to stabilize in the near future.
The U.S.’ strategic alliance with India is primarily meant to counter China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region. The U.S. has shown a tendency in the past to overlook Pakistan’s strategic predicaments due to out of proportion support to India using the Chinese pretext. It will empower India to a level that can put other regional states’ interests in jeopardy. While India would benefit at the economic and diplomatic level by this alignment, it will simultaneously maintain and foster its economic and trade relations with Beijing.
The U.S. categorized China its ‘strategic competitor’ in its National Security Strategy report in 2017. It fears that the rate at which the Chinese economy is growing in comparison to the U.S. it is possible that in the next two or three decades it could equal or overtake it. But as China’s economy has matured its GDP growth has slowed significantly to 6.6% in 2018 with projections by the IMF that it would fall to 5.5 % by 2024. Nonetheless, China would be a major economic player along with the U.S. Trade rivalry and friction on trade issues between the two and China are likely to continue in the near future.
The Chinese government controls fundamental economic factors like land and other resources either directly or indirectly. This practice would persist as long as the Chinese communist party is in power. While economic prosperity continues the Chinese will remain fully supportive of the regime.
The political turbulence in Hong Kong has been and will remain a source of concern for Beijing in the coming year. They were triggered by the introduction of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance amendment bill by the Hong Kong government. This is perceived by a wide cross section of the population as an attempt to change the special status of Hong Kong. Foreign interference is also attributed for the riots by the Chinese government.
The hostility and misperceptions about China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) have largely tapered off. Pakistan’s military has provided an effective security cover for the project. CPEC has contributed in strengthening the already existing strategic, economic and security bonds between China and Pakistan, and has taken them to a new level.
The writer is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and an eminent scholar on national security and political issues.
E-mail: [email protected]
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