The first 10 years of the 21st century were quite troublesome. The world witnessed terror attacks, two major wars, acute financial crisis in decades, several natural disasters, and alterations in global power dynamics.
The onset of 2011 has brought new hopes, worries, challenges, and debates for the world.
The US’ war in Afghanistan enters its 10th year, while in Iraq, 2011 is all set to be a turning point in American and Iraqi military history. Pakistan continues to be injured by Islamic extremism. The world seems to be confused and uncertain about rising China’s credibility. Al Qaeda still haunts continents, even 10 years after 9/11. Religious space continues to shrink for many communities across the world. The nuclear proliferation threats by North Korea and Iran continue to trouble the international community. Economic concerns are high still.
Here’s a look at some of the challenges faced by the world:
In 2011, serious challenges on the ground will continue to engage the US in Afghanistan. The US will reportedly increase troops temporarily to counter spring offensive by Taliban rebels, who will be deterred by cold weather in the early 2011.
Corruption in Afghanistan will continue to hamper the US’ pullout strategy. Moreover, Taliban do not seem to be losing this year. US President Barack Obama has said there will be a withdrawal of troops in July 2011, but the US will find all the reasons to stay back in Afghanistan. Even if it pulls back a few troops, it will merely be a symbolic action. However, the politics related to 2012 Presidential Elections in the US will overshadow the Afghan war.
The year didn’t start on a good note for Pakistan. The cold-blooded murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer by a bodyguard angered by his opposition to blasphemy laws hints at shrinking space for liberal thought in Pakistan. The assassination, condemned around the world, shows that the elite in Pakistan bow to the bigots. More disturbing is the praise showered upon the self-confessed murderer, which indicates Pakistan this year will slide further towards fundamentalism and chaos.
The US is expected to intensify its drone campaign against terrorists in the country rife with militancy. Washington will nonetheless continue to boost aid to Islamabad (to zip the lips of government officials). Anyways, US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter has already made clear that his country possess all the rights to interfere in Pakistan’s economic and governance affairs, since Washington is the largest aid giver to Islamabad.
Pakistan has designated 2011 as Friendship Year with China, so the best buddies would be seen boosting ties in sectors such as trade, military, development.
Credible or not? China’s opaque military spending will continue to worry its neighbours as well as the world. Barack Obama’s policy to appease China has not come up with substantial results. So, the year will see the United States readjust its Beijing policy. China’s aggressiveness in many incidents, especially naval skirmishes with Japan in 2010, will keep its neighbours on a tight vigil in 2011.
Moreover, the 12th Five-Year Plan will be formally ratified by the Chinese legislature in March.
China’s military ambitions will also be a matter of worry among its neighbours as well as the rest of the world. The Dragon has already set the tone by testing the country`s J20 stealth aircraft in Chengdu, while calming US Defence Secretary Robert Gates of its military build-up in Beijing.
It is a crucial year for Iraq. Formed after a long hiatus, Iraq’s new coalition government will hopefully stay intact.
The return of Shi`ite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to Iraq is an important development. Al-Sadr, who emerged in Iraq on January 05 after an absence of almost four years, is an opponent of US foreign policy and the kingmaker who helped Nouri al-Maliki cling to power.
US troops are certain to leave the Middle Eastern country by year-end. Iraqi leaders have already cleared they do not want to see any of the remaining 50,000 US soldiers on their country’s soil after this year. But the presence of al-Sadr on Iraqi political scenario may give the remaining US troops a difficult time.
The improvement in US-Russia ties is an important achievement of Barack Obama. Despite a number of differences on issues such as extradition of Viktor Bout and capture of Russian spies in the US, Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev displayed a great chemistry. In fact, the Russian Parliament is soon expected to ratify a landmark New START treaty, which has already got a thumbs-up from US lawmakers.
It was good to see Cold War foes supporting each other on the issue of Iran, when Moscow backed Washington for tougher sanctions against Tehran. Hope this cooperation will continue this year too.
It is truly a serious concern. The situation is not the same as it was 10 years ago. Global terror is not just limited to Afghanistan now. The terrorists are conspiring against “the infidels” today also, but their training, operations are not limited to any continent or a specific area. The militants are operating out of 15 to 20 countries.
Internet will continue to be the favoured propaganda medium for the terrorists, seeking new recruits. Although al Qaeda-linked terrorists have failed to carry out any major attack, it is worrisome to note that radicals working in smaller cells will continue to shock the world. This will be the most challenging task of intelligence agencies across the world. Profiling again will not help, thanks to home-grown terrorism in countries, such as the US and the UK.
It is anybody’s guess. The US has failed to place any deal on the table to persuade the Israeli government to freeze construction of Jewish settlements. In fact, it does not look as if the Israeli government is willing to make compromises required to achieve peace with Palestinians.
It will be interesting to see how Latin American countries recognise Palestine as a sovereign state. But again, the year does not appear to be bringing any good news for Middle East peace seekers.
North Korea-South Korea
In the face of threats from North Korea, South Korea is readying to fight fire with fire. At some points (of course under China’s pressure), North Korea may propose talks with South Korea, but Pyongyang is expected to conduct a third nuclear bomb test in 2011. The year will also see North Korea pushing to cement Kim Jong-Un’s leadership.
Iran cannot be stopped from acquiring nuclear weapons if it wants them. Iran and major powers concerned about its nuclear program met in Turkey on January 21-22 just to witness another failure. The vocal Islamic Republic had already said that Istanbul talks will be the "last chance" for the West. It will be crucial for the world powers to make a deal with Tehran in a bid to dash its nuclear hopes.