Ongoing military action in Afghanistan will continue to be the dominant issue in South and Central Asia. Both pro- and anti-U.S. forces will struggle for strategic initiative as winter snows melt, and both sides will score significant victories. Although the United States will seek to minimize threats on the ground with continued air strikes, these will not be wholly effective; we expect more Pushtuns to join the opposition, gradually turning what began as a battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban into a more difficult guerrilla war against U.S. occupation. Anti-U.S. attacks will multiply in a spring offensive, and the central government in Kabul will remain essentially powerless. The net result: U.S. forces will continue to be bogged down in Afghanistan during the second quarter for a protracted counter-insurgency campaign, the outcomes of which are still unclear.
Next door in Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf will continue to move to lock down his already substantial hold on power and bring an air of legitimacy to his post-coup rule. Although forces within the intelligence services and some rogue generals remain a threat to his regime, they are unlikely to seek open confrontation for the time being — waiting instead for Musharraf to truly enrage Pushtun clans in western Pakistan before making their move — either by allowing U.S. troops to launch attacks on Pushtun territory or by sending his forces to do it himself. The key question for the Musharraf regime in the next three months is whether U.S. or Pakistani troops — or both — will move into western Pakistan in search of al Qaeda fugitives.
India, still reeling from sectarian violence that pitted Hindus and Muslims against each other, is focusing inward. The government's control over outlying regions is slipping as it attempts to juggle the conflict in Kashmir, violence on India's eastern border and increasing U.S. military pressure. The country's growing regional dominance will slow, and troop deployments along the Pakistani border will remain in limbo.
Violence will continue in Nepal as the military attempts to quell a Maoist insurgency. The monarchy's power will grow through increased control of the media and the army. Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, lengthy peace talks between the government and Tamil Tigers will get under way and a cease-fire should hold, despite the possibility of scattered violations by rogue militants.