In the past three months, three attempted coups have been foiled in our neighbourhood plunging the governments there into crisis modes. In Bangladesh, Pakistan and Maldives, elements within their respective political set ups threatened democratically elected governments.
In December an attempted coup in Bangladesh by army officers aligned with the fundamentalist outfit Hizb ut Tahrir was foiled, saving Sheikh Haseena's fledgling government. The coup was plotted to subvert the trial of war criminals that had sided with the Pakistani army in the 1971 war.
Too Liberal? President Nasheed of Maldives was accused of being too liberal, allowing the sale of alcohol and pork in areas where orthodox Maldivians lived
The fanatic army officers were backed by HuT and a network of professionals and retired military officials settled in Dhaka and abroad, who provided funding for running of clandestine operations to push Bangladesh towards radical fundamentalism.
Sheikh Haseena is a speed breaker towards this end and they are leaving no stone unturned to eliminate this obstruction. The Prime Minister is perceived to be pro-India and her efforts to strengthen ties with New Delhi are viewed with suspicion and hostility by fundamentalists. Her three-year-old government also faces the threat of ouster from the pro-Islamic BNP party headed by Khaleeda Zia.
In January, repeat-offender the Pakistan army had another go at its favourite pass time, destabilising an elected government. The army with the aid of the courts sent out signals that the government of Zardari and Gilani was soon to be history. It seemed as if the fledgling democracy was again going to fall apart at the centre and the country would embrace the army, yet again.
Radical Islamic forces who double up as the army's cheerleaders, were disgusted with the civilian government's attempts to broker peace with India and mend fences with the United States. The government too was battling several issues: the memogate scandal, corruption allegations, failed economy and frayed relations with the NATO over drone strikes.
But the savvy Gilani-Zardari checkmated the army. They knew that rolling in tanks into cities, blacking out the media and crushing democratic political forces would not win international support at a time when pro-democracy movements are spreading through much of the Arab world. An uneasy peace was brokered and a coup avoided Come February the action moved to Maldives. Democratically elected President Mohammad Nasheed had to resign almost at gunpoint, he claimed, to make way for his vice president Mohammad Wahid. Violent clashes broke out in the island nation between pro and anti Nasheed workers, leading to fears that a collapse of the democratically elected government was imminent.
Many expected the Indian military to mount an operation similar to 1988. Termed 'Operation Cactus', it has been one of India's most visible surgical strikes in which it took down foreign mercenaries who were going to oust President Gayoom. This time however, India's influence over the President did not work. Nasheed was unable to quell the protests by Islamists that had divided Maldives since December. Nasheed was accused of being too liberal, allowing the sale of alcohol and pork in areas where orthodox Maldivians lived.
Radicalism has been growing in Maldives in the past few years with the help of Madrassa education from Pakistan. Some called for a 'national discourse' on bringing back flogging of women! During the SAARC summit in December monuments of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal were vandalised in Addu Island, as they were considered idolatrous and unacceptable to Islamic tenets.
However this time the situation was different, as it was a constitutional take over by a Vice President from a President who had resigned. Had Nasheed not resigned and called for help from India, claiming a take over from fundamentalists who were led by his vice-president, it might have resulted in an Indian intervention of some sorts. Nasheed spoke to Indian interlocutors several times, assuring them that he was in control. And then all of a sudden, he decided to quit. That closed the doors on any options that India could have taken other than just pragmatic, quiet diplomacy. A non-coup of sorts had happened, as it was a voluntary hand over.
India now finds itself surrounded by democracies in peril and has to play a pro-active role to see that anti-India forces do not find their way into government formation. This can and must be done through overt and covert means. To be a smart power in the region it cannot sink into reactive role-playing.
Smita Prakash is Editor (News) at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter@smitaprakash