India should stay out of West Asia politics

  • Rajendra Abhyankar
  • Updated: Sep 16, 2014 22:55 IST

Press reports ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to America suggest that the US will ask India to become a non-Nato ally. Apart from its other downsides, it will immediately put us on a par with Pakistan. The stunned silence that greeted President Barack Obama’s announcement on Syria keeps secretary of state John Kerry running helter-skelter to garner members for the ‘international coalition’ against the Islamic State (ISIS). Enough reason for India not to succumb to such exhortations.

Syria is the latest of the US’ flawed strategies since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It has never looked back and neither has the change to a democratic leadership made any difference. We have had Afghanistan, Libya and now Syria and ISIS. After dithering on any kind of US military action, Obama will authorise air strikes against ISIS in its safe haven in Syria.

A number of developments question the credibility and effectiveness of this strategy. It is flawed in its goal, manner of execution, and target and its outcome. It is not possible to degrade or eliminate an idea by military means.

It is also flawed on two significant counts: In not seeking any coordination with the Syrian government and bypassing the United Nations and the Security Council. Under these circumstances any US action — by air only as we understand — will be an invasion of a sovereign country.

Predictably, the Assad regime has said it will be an assault on its sovereignty unless of course the US coordinates action. But the US prevaricates due to conventional wisdom and Israeli pressure — that it will strengthen the Assad regime against Western Sunni proxies and adversely impact Israel’s security. It is still not ready to accept that the Assad regime is the lesser of the two evils and both target the same enemy for the same reason. That the Assad regime has failed for three years is thanks again to western assistance. This amounts to saying that it is fine for the United States to go after the Sunni ISIS but not for Assad even though it includes his citizens.

So where are the United Nations charter and high ideals the US goes by? The US’ studied bypassing of the UN in building the international coalition says enough about the status of that body. Even important Nato members are not on board. The US has emasculated the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) by even ignoring the form of seeking a UN mandate even though a Russian and Chinese veto is inevitable. And so giving Russia the opening to do the same in Crimea and Ukraine. The plethora of overt tension in China’s periphery on land and sea now gives the freedom to follow suit.

The response from the Arab and Islamic world has been tepid even though the Arab League has backed attacks on Syria. The Saudis have no choice but to agree to provide training bases and funding for equipping the ‘moderate’ Sunni groups to fight ISIS. But what is the guarantee that this will play out as the US desires? And these are the same Saudis who funded the same ISIS to fight the Shias in Iraq and Syria and bring down the Assad regime.

Finally, there has been no denial of the speculation that ISIS, and its caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is the West’s creation to fight the Shia onslaught from Iran and Iraq. John McCain’s meeting with al-Bahgdadi in Erbil in May last year strengthens such speculation. A group of ‘moderate’ Sunni leaders, including Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri, the self-same Abu Bakr, met McCain. Under his earlier handle he remains on the US’ List of Specially Designated Global Terrorists with a bounty of $10 million on his head. What was McCain doing with a global terrorist with a price on his head?

Modi would do well to distance India from US exhortations on Nato status. And he should perhaps cool our rhetoric for a permanent seat in the UNSC.
Rajendra Abhyankar, former Indian ambassador to Syria, is professor of Practice of Diplomacy and Public Affairs at SPEA, Indiana University, Bloomington

The views expressed by the author are personal.

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