Thursday, September 25, 2014

Should India join Obama in his war against ISIS

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

It has been reported that during Narendar Modi's visit to USA, the President of US Barack Obama will request India's participation in the war against ISIS, a war in which India does not have any particular interest or desire. Sir Harold Nicholson in his great work entitled Diplomacy wrote: Do not waste your time in trying to discover what is at the back of the Oriental's mind; there may, for all you know be nothing at the back: concentrate all your attention upon making quite certain that he is left with no doubt whatsoever in regard to what is at the back of your mind (p. 111). I think if President Barack Obama feels that the Prime Minister of India is going to waltz into a war of USA's making, he is quite mistaken. The stranglehold of post colonial gibberish which passes off as wisdom has inured Indian academics and policy makers to the inherent racism in USA's global policies.

The war which is unfolding in Syria and Iraq stems from the criminal, illegal and wanton act of naked aggression launched by USA against Iraq in 2003. The sustained violence unleashed by USA in Iraq and the self conscious promotion of identity politics has led to the present situation in which the Sunnis feeling alienated from the Iraqi regime started striking back. USA made the mistake of believing that all those opposing US occupation of Iraq are al qaeda cohorts. As events have shown ISIS is a branch of the extreme Islamist ideology which has deep roots in the late eighteenth century  off shoot of Islam, the Wahabi cult. Charles Allen in his outstanding book God's Terrorists has shown that the Saud tribe of the Arabian desert used the austere desert religion of Wahhabism to capture power in Arabia and the Ottoman conquest of the region kept the more extreme forms of this religion under check. However, the British during World War I once again patronised the Wahabis and used them against the Ottoman Empire. The transformation of Wahhabism from a desert cult to a political ideology was the contribution of the British secret service especially T E Lawrence whose exploits are celebrated in Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. Against this historical background we have to see if it is at all possible for USA to succeed in reining in the ISIS.

USA started destabilizing Syria the last bastion of Baathist modernizing regimes in the region very early after the attack on Iraq. It is well known that both under Saddam Hussein in Iraq and under the Assad regime in Syria religious fanaticism has been kept in check, women's rights secured, public health widespread and education accessible to all. Religious minorities like Orthodox Christians were safe and there was a degree of what Ibn Khaldun called assabiya in these countries. USA put its own thirst for oil ahead of the social needs and progress of the region and started arming groups with sophisticated weapons and training. ISIS is an off shoot of the Free Syrian Army which has had a strong presence in northeast Hasakeh province of Syria. Now when the group has started beheading Americans, USA turns around and starts calling it names. Till less than four months back their Secretary of State was threatening to bomb Syrian Army positions, a strategy which would have immensely helped ISIS. The wisdom and sagacity of Vladmir Putin prevented this unholy mess from unfolding. In short, USA has made it a habit to arm and train militants and use the Arab League to provide a semblance of legitimacy for unleashing provocative actions as it did both in Iraq and Libya.

The American Administration is now in a quandary of its own making. It cannot fight ISIS alone and is recruiting countries like Jordan, UAE and Saudi Arabia to extend support for its bombing campaign and the world knows that it is these countries which financed the ISIS in the first place. Turkey is rather ambivalent and the restive Kurdish population of Iraq and neighbouring parts of Turkey may use the mayhem of American intervention to carve out an independent state. USA still wants to arm and equip the Free Syrian Army even after events have shown that ISIS owes its origin to that very formation. At the same time USA wants to keep the option of overthrowing the last bastion of decency in the region, the regime of Syria. Iran is also an interested actor and is extracting a huge price for its cooperation, the tacit acceptance of its nuclear ambitions.

GIven the complexity of the situation, it is not in Indian interest to join hands with USA in its war against ISIS. India has now begun to insulate the country even from al qaeda by starting negotiations with Afghanistan and there is no need fro India to pull American chestnuts out of the fire.

The bombing of Iraq and Syria


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