As the year 2008 comes to a close, it is interesting to look back at some of the developments that challenged the existing order and made one ponder if these are indications to an eventful 2009.
The U.S.-Russia tussle saw two major geographical manipulations in the Russian vicinity. The first was triggered by U.S. support for declaration of independence by the Serbian province of Kosovo in February, the latest thread in the Balkanisation process. However, the month of August gave Russians a chance to return the favor, thanks to Georgian belligerence in its northern province of South Ossetia. Russians routed the Georgian army and recognized South Ossetia's right to secede along with another Georgian province of Abkhazia. U.S. might have triggered this event too but the Russians had the last laugh while U.S. was left fuming at the sight of its beleaguered ally.
There was more to come at the strategic level. U.S. in its move to bring the NATO forces and artillery closer to the Russian borders; supported the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine in the cross-Atlantic body, and made known its intentions of installing air defense systems in Poland and Czech Republic, under the garb of Iranian threat. As the year came to an end, Russian fleet too set its sails towards the American seas to hold joint war games with Venezuela. Moreover, Russia too plans to strengthen its defenses (and offenses) in Kaliningrad Oblast bordering U.S. allies, Poland and Lithuania.
On the energy front too, Russia has successfully brought together the Gas exporting countries under an OPEC-like institutional framework which has further added to its clout, much to the dismay of U.S. It will be interesting to see what course this age-old rivalry takes in the coming year.
While the above developments hurt U.S.A.'s international standing badly, its homegrown sub prime and mortgage crisis triggered such events that now threaten its economic hegemony too. World saw the Gulf sovereign funds coming to the rescue of American banks, an unprecedented development indeed. Though the decoupling theory proved wrong, but still India and China seemed better prepared for the crisis than ever before. A couple of weeks back, China, Japan and South Korea summit saw new economic partnerships being forged to work out a coordinated strategy against the global financial meltdown, an indication of countries looking beyond U.S.
Earlier in July this year, Doha rounds, the free-trade negotiations of W.T.O. collapsed in Geneva, as the developing countries led by India and China refused to yield to U.S. terms and conditions. Moreover, the recent revelation of Maddoff Ponzi scheme brought further disrepute to the Wall Street and the U.S. nation as a whole.
Away from all this politics and economics, another superpower is being threatened and the year 2008 has been very tough for it. Australian Cricket can never be the same again. They started the year defeating India in the controversial Sydney Test thanks to the magical over bowled by Michael Clark. However that was the end for them and a beginning for the bruised Indian team. India won the next test and though lost the test series, came back with vengeance in the One-dayers. In the three final matches tri-series, India under Dhoni never needed the third final.
There was more to come in October-November when Australians came to India for the next edition of Border-Gavaskar Trophy. They did come with the trophy but could not take it back, being defeated 2-nil by the resurgent Indians. In between India tied a test series with South Africa at home and lost to Sri Lanka at their home but returned the favour in the one-dayers.
Indians brought the year to an end with an inspiring test victory at home against England. In the first test, the Sehwag blitzkrieg left the Englishmen clueless and the cricket lovers bedazzled. However the year ending has proved dismal for the Aussies. Proteas' heroics in the first test at Perth saw South Africa scaling a target of 414 with great agility and confidence. With the Boxing Day Test, the final and the most crucial test match of the year having started just half an hour back (and Hayden continuing with his poor form, already back to the pavilion), one wonders how the Kangaroos will fair this time. Australia might have amassed a lot of points on the test ranking table, thanks to the likes of McGrath, Warne and company but with these stalwarts retiring from the international scene, the going is getting tougher for the Ponting men or rather boys. India and even more strongly, South Africa have started fancying their chances to bring an end to the Australian hegemony in cricket.
In the corporate sphere of cricket, BCCI continues to extend its hegemony. With the successful conduct of PCL, Lalit Modi has become one of the most powerful sports executive in the world. Hence, the year 2009 holds a lot of promises for India in the cricketing arena. One hopes the good performances of 2008, seen in the other sports like shooting and boxing continue the next year too, to give a better platform for the Indian contingent at Commonwealth Games to be held in the National Capital in 2010.
Coming back to politics, U.S. saw a major domestic power swing as Democrats under Obama came back to power. Republicans had their eight years under Bush and they ended up doing all that should not have been done. Bush revealing earlier this month that his biggest regret was the U.S. intelligence failure on Iraq sums it up.
However, back home, power politics kept swinging all through the year. NDA's Karnataka victory earlier this year, saw them gaining a lot of mileage for the coming general elections but the results of recent assembly elections in Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi humbled the saffron brigade to some extent and filled a new zeal and confidence in the Grand Old Party of India, which was fearing for worse.
"We have taken a risk", is what Chief Election Commissioner had to say on announcing the schedule for elections to the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly, back in October. Earlier in the year, the way events had unfolded around the Amarnath shrine board issue, it seemed the separatists will have a field day if and when elections are conducted. Air in the Valley seemed rife with secessionist emotions and no one predicted that democracy could have the last laugh.
However, with all the seven phases of election over in the state, one is amazed at the voter turnout figures, much above than the previous occasions. Hence, the year ending saw the power swinging back in the favour of the democratic process in the northern-most state of India. In another couple of days, we will come to know, who will wear the crown and hopefully, strengthen this process further in 2009.
On the corporate front, Indian companies continued their foreign acquisitions, though at a lesser pace than in 2007, led by Tata's takeover of Land Rover and Jaguar brands from Ford. However, the Japanese firm's takeover of Indian pharmaceutical giant Ranbaxy spoilt the party to some extent.
India's successful moon mission, Chandrayaan was another step in the Indian as well as Asian elevation in space technology. With Indian-built European satellite W2M being launched last Sunday from French Guiana, it adds further to ISRO's clout and coffers.
Further on technology and more importantly strategic front, India signed the Nuclear Cooperation Deal with U.S.A. , Russia and France after getting unprecedented go-ahead from NSG and IAEA. By successfully carving out a special place for itself in nuclear arena, India has successfully de-hyphenated itself from Pakistan.
Recent developments post-Mumbai terror attacks are seeing Pakistan being further marginalized. Even its strong ally China has not come out with open support as on previous occasions. Year 2009 is going to be very crucial for India-Pakistan relations and may see major power swings in South Asia with U.S. committed to escalate its war against terror in Afghanistan under Obama.