Defence Minister A.K. Antony said that though territory-related issues were the primary reason, historical differences, ideological biases, economic disparity, religious prejudices, energy security and water shortage also were factors.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony has again expressed apprehensions about the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands and felt that its consequences would be “unimaginable.”

“The threat of nuclear weapons falling into wrong hands remains an area of serious concern, and the consequences of such a situation are unimaginable,” he said, speaking at a seminar on ‘Changing nature of conflict: trends and responses’ here on Monday.

Though several countries were affected by terrorism, he said, the series of militant attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan thrust South Asia into the epicentre of a sub-conventional conflict and instability.

Explaining the causes and nature of the turmoil, Mr. Antony said that though territory- related issues were the primary reason, historical differences, ideological biases, economic disparity, religious prejudices, energy security and water shortage also were factors. The modern-day conflicts were not merely confined to states, but expanded to include sub-nationalities, terrorists and insurgences, religious fanatics and ethnic interest.

Given the changing nature of conflicts, Mr. Antony wanted the conventional armed forces to maintain an edge over such non-conventional players by increasing synergy among security agencies, both nationally and internationally.

Chief of the Army Staff Deepak Kapoor included West Asia to the list of regions mentioned by Mr. Antony as the epicentres of conflict and instability. “Territorial disputes, provocation by proxy wars, religious fundamentalism, radical extremism, ethnic tensions and socio-economic disparities are the hallmarks of South Asia.”

Owing to the sub-conventional conflicts, countries could undertake interventions on “purely humanitarian grounds if the diaspora is under threat, the sovereignty of nations being questioned such as attacks on missions abroad and national assets and foreign soil being used constantly for attack by state and non-state actors,” he said.

The situation in the region could further worsen since there was neither any political or diplomatic unity nor any common ground to build a consensus to fight this new war. As a result, there was a need to re-examine the concept of national security and to evolve concepts and doctrine to protect nations’ interests within and beyond the boundaries as well, he said.

In Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, battlefields were emerging as “going after the poppy cultivator and heroin smuggler may go concurrently with a war on militant fundamentalist groups, in an era when drug money finds its way into terrorist wars.” The present century, Gen. Kapoor reckoned, would see constant turmoil, a period of neither war nor peace.

“In previous times, countries fought countries. Now groups fight countries, individuals fight countries; it is a different type of game altogether” which would require multilateral military coalitions, preferably under the U.N. umbrella. Many nations might agree to work together for conflict resolution, but a clash of interests could lead to some nations fighting conflicts in isolation for which they needed to build capability and capacity.

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