Is the Cold War back?

In­dia is well equipped to han­dle the geo-po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion .

The Sunday Guardian - - & Comment Analysis -

Cur­rent hap­pen­ings in West Asia and in Afghanistan nearer home strongly sug­gest that the old lines of geo-po­lit­i­cal di­vide clearly in ev­i­dence dur­ing the Cold War years and be­fore are once again over­tak­ing the re­gion. The mis­sile at­tack re­cently car­ried out by the United States in col­lab­o­ra­tion with UK and France on Syria’s chem­i­cal weapon fa­cil­i­ties lo­cated off Da­m­as­cus has fur­ther deep­ened the di­vide be­tween the US-led West on the one hand and the Rus­sian camp on the other. What is ac­cen­tu­at­ing this fric­tion is the fact of dif­fer­ing align­ments within the Mus­lim world with Is­lamic rad­i­cals of Tal­iban-Al Qaeda com­bine and ISIS be­ing pit­ted against the US-led West, a ma­jor stream of pro-US Is­lamists rep­re­sented by the Saudi-led Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Is­lamic Con­fer­ence (OIC) be­ing an­tipa­thetic to­wards the for­mer Com­mu­nist bloc and the vi­o­lent Shia-Sunni con­tra­dic­tion show­ing up presently in the vir­u­lent hos­til­ity be­tween Iran and Saudi Ara­bia.

The out­break of the USled “war on ter­ror” fol­low­ing 9/11, which, in ef­fect, was a di­rect fight be­tween Is­lamic rad­i­cals and the West and the out­come of the 2011 Arab Spring that saw the pro- West Is­lamists of Mus­lim Broth­er­hood oust­ing the dic­ta­to­rial regime of Hosni Mubarak are rel­e­vant to an ex­am­i­na­tion of how the Cold War legacy is im­pact­ing the Mus­lim world in gen­eral and West Asia in par­tic­u­lar. The civil war in Syria and the dis­turbed scene in Afghanistan are both linked with com­mon threads of re­li­gio-po­lit­i­cal an­tag­o­nism to­wards the US-led West and use of faith-based mil­i­tancy as an in­stru­ment of com­bat. On the other hand, it has to be re­called that when the cleric Hasan al Banna formed Mus­lim Broth­er­hood in Syria and Egypt in 1928, he was set­ting the agenda of oust­ing pro-Left and sec­u­lar Arab dic­ta­tor­ships of Hafez As­sad, Nasser and Sad­dam Hus­sain and es­tab­lish­ing an Is­lamic dis­pen­sa­tion that would con­sider “Qu­ran as the best Con­sti­tu­tion”, but would “live in com­pe­ti­tion, not con­flict” with the West.

Banna’s ad­mirer Maulana Abul Ala Mau­doodi founded Ja­maat-e-Is­lami at La­hore in 1940 and ex­tended it to In­done­sia to take on Pres­i­dent Sukarno who ran a pro-Soviet dic­ta­tor­ship. The US-led West sup­ported both Mus­lim Broth­er­hood and the Ja­maate-Is­lami. A telling ev­i­dence of bind­ing be­tween the two is there in the fact that af­ter Syed Qutb was hanged by Nasser, Qutb’s col­league Syed Ra­madan was taken by Mau­doodi un­der his wings and kept at the Is­lamic Cen­tre in Geneva with the bless­ings of the West. In Pak­istan the Ja­maat went on to be­come the an­chor of Nizame-Mustafa pro­pounded by Gen­eral Zi­aul Haq and lead— along with the Saudi-funded Lashkar-e-Tayyaba—the Afghan ji­had against the Soviet army. In the anti-Soviet armed cam­paign, Osama bin Laden also re­ceived funds from Saudi Ara­bia be­cause 9/11 that sig­nalled the rise of Is­lamic rad­i­cals un­der his Al Qaeda was still some years away on the hori­zon.

The “war on ter­ror” has since pro­duced two strong epi­cen­tres of Is­lamic “re­vival­ists”—ISIS in Iraq-Syria and Tal­iban-Al Qaeda com­bine in Afghanistan—that had been tar­geted by the US. This has cut open the di­vide in the Mus­lim world be­tween the rad­i­cals, who carry the legacy of the Wah­habi ji­had con­ducted by lead­ing ulema in the 19th cen­tury against the Western en­croach­ment on Mus­lim lands and the pro-West Mus­lim mil­i­tants of Mus­lim Broth­er­hood and the Ja­maat-e-Is­lami, who sur­faced in the 20th cen­tury and who have been en­joy­ing the pa­tron­age of OIC chaired by Saudi Ara­bia. The Cold War di­vide is clearly play­ing up in the Mus­lim world. Afghanistan is once again prov­ing to be the ge­o­graph­i­cal pivot of his­tory as it is get­ting a com­pet­i­tive at­ten­tion from China and Rus­sia against the as­ser­tion of Don­ald Trump that US mili­tary pres­ence will be there as long as it takes to elim­i­nate the men­ace of the Tal­iban-Al Qaeda axis. The Cold War align­ments are get­ting re-es­tab­lished in Syria as the US-led West is to­tally op­posed to Basher As­sad, son of the old ad­ver­sary Hafez As­sad, and wants the Is­lamists wag­ing a civil war to suc­ceed in oust­ing him. Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin has pledged sup­port to As­sad and ex­pect­edly con­demned the US mis­sile at­tack in strong terms. On the side, Is­lamic rad­i­cals of ISIS want to grab power in op­po­si­tion to US and Rus­sia is not too both­ered about them. In Egypt, the Arab Spring saw Mus­lim Broth­er­hood snatch­ing power from Hosni Mubarak, much to the sat­is­fac­tion of US.

The geo-pol­i­tics of West Asia is also af­fected by the his­toric Shia-Sunni di­vide presently re­flected in the Iran-Saudi an­i­mos­ity on the one hand and the an­tipa­thy of Shia fun­da­men­tal­ism to­wards the US on the other. Iran’s em­pa­thy for the As­sad regime in Syria—As­sad is an Al­wite be­long­ing to a Shia sect— and its hos­til­ity to­wards Is­rael, a known ally of the US, are not dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand. Pres­i­dent Trump has fi­nally an­nounced sus­pen­sion of the US-Iran nu­clear deal be­cause among other rea­sons his con­sis­tent dis­like of Is­lamic ex­trem­ists whether they are Wah­habis of the Sunni world or the Shia fun­da­men­tal­ists guided by Ay­a­tol­lahs, af­fects his de­ci­sions. He also knows that Iran had no prob­lem with frater­nising with Commu- nist China or Rus­sia be­cause of its in­nate hos­til­ity to­wards the US-led West.

It is in the fit­ness of things that In­dia con­tin­ues to have deal­ings with Iran, Is­rael and Saudi Ara­bia, steer­ing clear of the in­ter­nal con­tra­dic­tions in the Mus­lim world and stand­ing by the sound pol­icy of bi­lat­er­al­ism based on com­mon eco­nomic and se­cu­rity ob­jec­tives. We have rightly shed the ide­o­log­i­cal bag­gage of “non-align­ment” af­ter the end of the Cold War and in keep­ing with our strate­gic in­ter­ests re­shaped our re­la­tion­ship with US, de­vel­oped di­rect con­tacts with Is­rael and re­tained our spe­cial bi­lat­eral deal­ings with Rus­sia. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi has put In­dia’s Pak pol­icy on a to­tally un­am­bigu­ous foot­ing and achieved to­tal Indo-US con­ver­gence on a clear con­dem­na­tion of Pak­istan for pro­vid­ing safe havens to Is­lamic ter­ror­ists across the spec­trum from Al Qaeda to LeT. In­dia’s firm pol­icy of not hav­ing talks with Pak­istan, un­less that coun­try ends cross-bor­der ter­ror­ism against In­dia has added to the stand­ing of this coun­try in the world com­mu­nity. On the whole, In­dia is well equipped to han­dle the geo-po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion im­pacted by the reap­pear­ance of Cold War di­vi­sions. D.C. Pathak is a for­mer Direc­tor In­tel­li­gence Bureau

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