Published : Jan 15, 2010 00:00 IST

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the latters residence outside Moscow in July 2009.-ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the latters residence outside Moscow in July 2009.-ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP

WHEN Frontline first hit the stands, the Cold War was still raging. India was then one of the strongest proponents of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). But there were signals that momentous changes were in the offing. The Soviet Army was getting bogged down in the Afghan quagmire and the West was becoming increasingly successful in mobilising anti-communist forces in the East European states that were part of the Socialist bloc.

In the late 1980s India broke the ice with China, following Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhis historic visit to Beijing in 1988. Both sides decided to start talking about the border issue. Since then relations have improved, and China has emerged as Indias largest trading partner.

In the late 1980s India was also involved in a misadventure in Sri Lanka, by sending the ill-conceived Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) mission there. In 1988, India intervened militarily to thwart a coup attempt in neighbouring Maldives.

Relations with Pakistan hit a dangerous low on several occasions in the past quarter century. Among the developments that gave rise to these were Operation Brass Tacks, conducted by the Indian Army between November 1986 and March 1987; the Kargil incident (May-July 1999), which almost brought the two nuclear-weapon countries to the precipice once again; the attack on Parliament House on December 13, 2001; and the terror attacks on Mumbai in November 2008.

There was a brief period of bonhomie between India and its neighbours when the Gujral Doctrine was implemented in the late 1990s. As of now, the dialogue process with Pakistan remains suspended despite pressure from the United States.

Relations with all the other governments in the region are good, though trouble with Nepal may be on the horizon if the Maoists stage a comeback. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) has blamed New Delhi for its ouster from government.

In Sri Lanka, the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was a historic event. India played an important behind-the-scenes role in helping the Sri Lanka Army defeat the Tigers.

In India, a clear shift in foreign policy was visible from the early 1990s. The opening up of the economy then was followed by the forging of closer links with the West. The defence relationship with the West, and especially with Israel, was strengthened and NAM was put on the back burner. The coming to power of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) accelerated the pro-West shift. Despite the initial diplomatic hiccups following the Pokhran nuclear test in 1998, relations between Washington and New Delhi became stronger. They were further cemented during the United Progressive Alliances (UPA) first term in office from 2004 to 2009 when the two governments signed the Defence Framework Agreement and then the civilian nuclear deal.

The Indian establishments pro-West tilt was influenced by the political vacuum created by the demise of the counter-balancing superpower the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). India had established close defence ties with Moscow, but like most other countries it did not visualise the demise of the USSR in such dramatic circumstances and within such a short time frame.

The death knell for socialism in eastern Europe was sounded when Mikhail Gorbachev became the President of the USSR in 1990. In retrospect, his policy of glasnost and perestroika, which was aimed at reforming the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, only hastened the demise of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc.

By the late 1980s the Kremlin had seemingly lost its political will to govern. Gorbachevs decision to agree to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall also signalled the beginning of the disintegration of the Eastern bloc. The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of Cold War I. The Warsaw Pact (the military alliance of the socialist bloc) was dissolved and the then U.S. President, George H.W. Bush, promised the Russian President that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), too, would be wound up. But once eastern and central European countries elected pro-Western governments, NATO began expanding right up to the borders of Russia. The European Union (E.U.), too, roped in new members from eastern Europe. The groundwork was thus laid for the start of a new cold war.

In Russia, following the turmoil unleashed by the abortive coup by communists disillusioned with Gorbachevs leadership, Boris Yeltsin arrived on the world stage. He was at the helm of affairs in Moscow from 1991 when the Soviet Union was formally disbanded, leading to the independence of many East European and Central Asian countries. For the first time since the Second World War a unipolar world emerged.

The great game in Central Asia started once again in right earnest. The abundance of oil and gas in the Caspian region made it a coveted prize for the West. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought further chaos to the world order. The U.S., in an effort to assert its hegemony as the sole superpower, started a series of wars. The first Gulf War, which lasted 40 days in January-February 1991, changed the security scenario in the Persian Gulf region. The U.S. used the threat from Iraq as a pretext to forge military alliances and set up bases all over the region. It was no secret that Americas ultimate goal was to monopolise the oil and gas resources of West Asia. Iraq and Iran were specifically targeted because they refused to kowtow to the U.S. Iraq, in fact, was the first country to nationalise Western oil companies. Iran irrevocably broke its vassal status vis-a-vis the U.S. after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

In the late 1990s, between the first and the second Gulf wars, the West presided over the dismantling of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On the pretext of helping Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims, NATO, under Washingtons leadership, unleashed a full-scale war on what was left of Yugoslavia. Washingtons mission was accomplished fully when Kosovo declared its independence on February 17, 2008. In the process, the U.S. established one of its biggest military bases in Kosovo. The Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, who chose to stand up and fight against Western machinations, was made a scapegoat and hauled to the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague.

In a way, the war in Yugoslavia was a test run for the second Gulf War. The first Gulf War had devastated Iraq and its people but the government of Saddam Hussein remained defiant. In spite of the draconian sanctions imposed by the West, the government in Baghdad ensured that very few Iraqis went hungry. President George W. Bush, even before he was formally elected, had made the removal of Saddam Hussein his main priority. The September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the U.S. gave him the excuse. Although Saddam was not even remotely connected with Al Qaeda, Iraq was made the scapegoat. In 1998, President Bill Clinton had targeted Sudan with missiles after the terror attacks on American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

The U.S. occupation of Afghanistan had preceded its 2003 invasion of Iraq. The main targets of the U.S. forces Osama bin Laden and top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaderships continue to remain free. Instead, Afghanistan, like Iraq, was bombed back into the Stone Age, and tens of thousands of Afghans were killed. In the mid-1990s more than a million Afghans were killed in the U.S.-instigated civil war that preceded the Taliban takeover of that country.

In Iraq, the civilian toll as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation is estimated to have crossed a million. Another two million Iraqis have been turned into refugees. The country faces an uncertain future with the sectarian and ethnic divide showing no signs of narrowing. The U.S. has said it will leave the country by 2011, but many are sceptical about happening. The biggest U.S. military bases in the region are now in Iraq. Besides, the U.S. fears that Iran will gain politically from its withdrawal. The U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were, in a way, helpful to Iran. Saddam Hussein and the Taliban were equally despised by the Iranian leadership. But now Iran has to deal with U.S. forces on both sides of its borders. There was a belief that the new U.S. administration of Barack Obama would seriously pursue talks with Iran on the nuclear issue. But Washington has ratcheted up the pressure on Teheran, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior officials saying that all options are on the table. China and Russia, however, still remain opposed to the imposition of punitive sanctions and the use of military force against Iran.

The Arab-Israel conflict seems to have gone from bad to worse in the past 25 years. It is one of the key issues destabilising world politics and providing succour and rationale for militant groups. The flawed Oslo Accords is on the verge of being dumped officially by the Palestinian leadership. The Israeli side rode roughshod over the agreement from the very beginning, and successive governments reduced to a farce the two-state solution envisaged in it. Israeli settlements sprouted all over the West Bank and Jerusalem, negating the dream of an independent Palestinian state.

The Bush administration in its eight years in office gave the Israeli government a blank cheque. The Israeli military defeat at the hands of the Hizbollah resistance movement when it invaded Lebanon (July 2006) was a defining moment in the politics of West Asia. But before it withdrew, the Israeli military machine devastated Lebanons infrastructure.

The Israeli armed forces again went amok while invading the Gaza Strip in December 2008-January 2009. Operation Cast Lead, which led to the death of an estimated 1,400 Gazans and caused huge loss to civilian property, finally brought full-scale international opprobrium on the Jewish state. Even European states, which traditionally turned a blind eye to the rapacious behaviour of the Zionist state, had no option but to criticise the Gaza operation when incontrovertible evidence of war crimes and human rights abuses was presented before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Only the U.S. administration continues to shield Israel, but there is growing evidence that public opinion in the U.S., even among Jews, is fast turning against Israel and its treatment of Palestinians.

Another landmark event in the period under reference was the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was freed from prison after long years of incarceration and was sworn in as President in 1994. At the dazzling inaugural ceremony, the loudest cheers were reserved for Cuban President Fidel Castro. It was the defeat of the powerful South African Army at the hands of a Cuban-led force in the battle of Cuito Cuinavale in 1988 that led to the withdrawal of the apartheid forces from Angola and the independence of Namibia.

But the African continent continues to be ravaged by civil wars and ethnic strife. The genocide in Rwanda and the war in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo have claimed more than four million lives. The continuing strife in the DRC is mainly a spillover of the ethnic strife in Rwanda. Somalia has ceased to be a state since the early 1990s. Outside intervention by proxies of the U.S. has ensured that most of Somalia remains in a state of anarchy. In Kenya, a disputed election in late 2007 led to ethnic strife that resulted in the death of thousands of civilians. The West is trying its best to keep alive the Darfur issue in Sudan, though credible reports have emerged that the numbers of those killed have been highly exaggerated. Meanwhile, southern Sudan seems to be on the verge of secession. A referendum on the issue is scheduled to be held in 2011.

In Indonesia, the overthrow of Suharto in 1998 and the restoration of democracy was an important happening. The man who oversaw the liquidation of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and the killing of more than 500,000 people was, however, never brought to justice and had the privilege of dying peacefully at home. His legacy survives, with his proteges continuing to hold on to most of the top posts in government, including the presidency. It was only after Suharto lost his grip on power that East Timor could become independent, in 2002. The Indonesian Army occupied the former Portuguese colony after it declared independence in 1975. Meanwhile, the Burmese junta, inspired by the Indonesian military model, continues to thrive.

The past 10 years have witnessed a sea change in the politics of Latin America. Since the victory of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1998, left-wing parties have notched up victories in state after state in the region. The latest to join the leftist bandwagon is El Salvador, where the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) won the presidency. For more than a decade and a half, the FMLN fought a bloody guerilla war against the U.S.-backed right-wing government. The U.S. also managed to roll back temporarily the Sandinista revolution in the late 1980s by propping up counter-revolutionary forces.

Honduras provided the base for U.S. security agencies to organise their counter-revolutionary machinations. That state, too, took a leftward turn when President Manuel Zelaya, who was elected three years ago, joined the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). The other key members of the grouping are Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Bolivia. Zelaya was unconstitutionally removed from office in late June. The new military-installed government has been shunned by the entire international community.

Chavezs electoral triumph was soon replicated in Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina, where centre-left parties led by left-wing personalities such as Tabare Vasquez, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Nestor Kirchner respectively became Presidents. Kirchner opted out of the 2007 presidential election. His wife, who shares his left-wing ideology, stood instead and won handsomely.

The Cuban revolution has been a source of great inspiration for the people of Latin America. In Chile, Michele Bachelet of the Socialist Party the party of Salvadore Allende was voted to power in 2006. The above-mentioned leaders who are proud of their leftist tag have, however, generally embraced a centrist economic path. In the same year, in Ecuador, too, the leftist Rafael Correa won elections on a radical platform. Even more stunning was the victory of Evo Morales in Bolivia in late 2005. Morales became the first person of indigenous ancestry to become the head of a country in Latin America. To top it all, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, once again led by Daniel Ortega, were returned to power last year. Mexico too could have had a leftist as President had Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador not lost narrowly in the 2007 elections.

Latin Americans became attracted to left-wing causes after withstanding the harmful effects of neoliberal economic policies in their region. They were also fed up of the all-pervasive U.S. influence in the hemisphere. Latin America was the region with the greatest degree of economic inequality. The political dispensation, subservient to the U.S., violently subverted the will of the people in many of the countries until recently. The overthrow by coup detat of the popularly elected government of Honduras has shown that old habits die hard among the oligarchic classes of the hemisphere.

The left-wing parties that have come to power since the late 1990s in Latin America have come through the route of the ballot box, not through armed revolution. The only two armed revolutions that have succeeded in the hemisphere in the last half century are the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions.

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