An ill wind blows through West Asia

Baghdadi is increasingly seen as more powerful than Al-Qaeda's chief

Hyderabad: The dramatic Sunday announcement of an “Islamic Caliphate” by the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS, which is also being called ISIL after the French geographical expression Levant given to territories comprising today’s Syria, Palestine, Jordan and southern Turkey), to which pledge of allegiance has been demanded of all Muslims in the world, is a stark reminder of the comprehensive failure of the US-led Western intervention in West Asia in the last two decades.

The toppling of Saddam Hussein on the palpably false charge of the Iraqi dictator possessing weapons of mass destruction that could annihilate the West, and his subsequent judicial murder, was a low point of US policy which had unintended consequences that are before us today.

The later toppling of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya (and his murder) surprised no one as it appeared that all anti-West regimes in the rich oil-bearing region of the world were being targeted one by one. After Libya came the turn of Syria under Bashar al-Assad (though the regime has held out for the past two years). After all, regime change has been official US policy since October 1998.

Washington’s systematic removal of West Asian leaders who had provided stability, and held back the genie of political Islam inspired by Salafist ideologues, produced, first, armed Islamist anarchy in Iraq which has now transitioned into the dark prospect of Iraq being overwhelmed by the ISIS. Fierce fighting between forces loyal to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Islamist fighters of this Al Qaeda breakaway faction (by whose standards of butchery the original AQ looks a moderate outfit) is raging in Iraq, and threatening next-door Syria.

It appears that West Asia has been destabilised, and its traditional security architecture looks like dissolving. To contain ISIS, sections of the Washington establishment in desperation even proposed reaching some understanding with Iran, an idea which angered the Sunni Arab world.

The threat of a beginning-of-time type scenario seems real enough today, creating strategic uncertainties. The West looks a picture of confusion as the much-hyped “Arab spring” (which was supposed to usher in democracy — first in Egypt and then the rest of West Asia, thus checking the march of the Islamist ideology unleashed by Al Qaeda) looks to be giving way to a bleak “Islamist winter” if the “Islamic Caliphate” succeeds in taking wings.

An ill wind is blowing. At a time like this, the very existence of India’s policy towards the Arab world looks suspect as the recent President’s address to the two Houses of Parliament skipped any reference to that region. This has not happened before.

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