Cover Story Related: Turbulence in Iraq: Implications for India
Intro:Increasing passion among the Shia community is also a dangerous trend. There is a possibility of radicalisation of Indian Muslims but at the same time there is huge possibility of projecting moderate Islam by the same Muslims.
The turbulence in Iraq-Syria in particular and West Asia in general has multi-dimensional impact on India’s security. The effects can be analysed at political, social, economic, ideological, military and diplomatic levels. This essay will primarily focus on economic, social and politico-strategic impact of the emerging situation in West Asia.
In today’s world economics and soft power are essential instruments of foreign policy. Instability in Iraq and West Asia has a huge potential to negatively impact on India’s economy. India imports 75-80 percent of its energy needs and a major chunk of it comes from this region. Meltdown in Iraq, Iran or Saudi Arabia can be disastrous for economic and energy security of India. This in turn can have major ramifications on all other issues, which we cannot neglect. Exploiting our traditional linkages and good relations with the countries in this region is therefore critical. The remittances of the Indian Diaspora in the region make a huge contribution to forex reserves and the sudden stoppage will adversely affect the economy.
We have a huge Diaspora spread across the region of West Asia, especially in the Gulf area. The recent crisis involving 46 nurses in Northern Iraq which forced us to put all diplomatic resources together, was just a tip of the iceberg. If a conflict escalates and spreads into the Gulf region, the fallout on life and security of 2.5 million Indians will be at stake. We do not have infrastructure, mechanism or network to manage any such contingency. We do tend to relegate our foreign relationships on supposedly trivial issues. It needs to keep in mind that critical situations cannot be handled only at diplomatic level. Of course, formal structures are important but informal contacts and maintaining goodwill with civil society abroad is equally important. The lessons learnt from the crisis in Lebanon in 2006 confirmed that every network contributes in such critical situations. Military diplomacy is usually relegated in importance and its true potential is not sufficiently recognised. It needs to be remembered that in crisis situations in war zones it is the host country’s military which will be in control; military to military contacts tend to work well in such situations.
At political-strategic level, the Iraqi melt down is already having wide ranging implications on the fragile relationships and ongoing conflicts in the region. The Shia-Sunni divide and specifically the Syrian Civil War have received a spurt while the Israeli-Palestinian standoff has exacerbated with the full blown crisis in Gaza. A tilt in the US relationships with Saudi Arabia and Iran can be expected with the US diluting its negative stance towards Iran. The latter will provide an opportunity for India to further strengthen its relationship with
Iran without any compromise in its relationship with Saudi Arabia. The assumption that the US is losing interest in the region because of abundant home production of shale gas is an incorrect surmise as economic viability of shale gas is still some time away. More importantly, West Asia is not only about oil and gas; it’s geography also dictates its importance. The US cannot afford to relegate the importance of the region.
The presence of Al-Qaeda, ISIL and many other terrorist groups is another important political and strategic concern. The arc of radical terror is spreading from West Asia towards the Af-Pak region. The emerging Shia Crescent will come into confrontation with this and this turbulence will have inevitable implications for India which relies on stability for its flow of energy resources. There are important repercussions for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Is there possibility of the impending US security arrangement for post withdrawal Afghanistan crumbling as it has happened in Iraq? Is Taliban really marginalised in Afghanistan and what will be its response to these developments in Iraq? If Afghanistan crumbles the implications for India will be grave although a direct impact on the security situation in Jammu & Kashmir may be debatable. What will be the immediate effect on Pakistan which has its own running battle with radicalism? India would tend to lose its soft power based influence on the strategic space in Afghanistan. Internally, South Asia in general and India can also face implications of this situation because of the Pan-Islamic identity. Increasing passion among the Shia community to participate directly in the protection of its shrines in Iraq is also a dangerous trend. There is a possibility of radicalisation of Indian Muslims but at the same time there is huge possibility of projecting moderate Islam by the same Muslims. New economic and education opportunities are strengthening the integration of the Muslims but isolation of some segments of Muslims is prone to get exploited. Therefore, there is a need to do social engineering to bring Indian Muslims in the national mainstream. If further integration is ensured through right policies and implementation, especially in fields of education and employment then the threat of pan-Islamic sentiments can be countered. We need to spread better understanding of Islam among other communities. Fortunately, Indian Muslims have started realising the importance of education and that needs to be taken forward.
Thus, if India takes the initiative to proactively prepare for contingencies, deal with the major stake holders through the right balancing act and manage the Muslim public opinion carefully it will be in a far better position to deal with the issues and challenges posed by the crisis in West Asia.
Lt Gen (Retd)
SA Hasnain(The writer is a retired Army Officer and commanded an Army Corps in J & K)