By Shankar Roychowdhury
Oct 12, 2015
West Asia is in a turmoil whose magnitude can undoubtedly compare with that at the height of the Crusades in the Middle Ages. The crisis lies in Syria, where a complex witches’ brew of a multi-cornered, intra-Arab conflict has extended itself over West Asia, eastwards from Libya and is now intruding into Asia Minor and touching the borders of Turkey.
The dimensions are fluctuating and blurred with multiple participants pitched against each other in an expanding confrontation. This includes rival factions of a divided Syrian Army, assorted bands of “fighters” from terrorist groups all over the Arab world, including Hezbollah, Hamas, and Kurdish “peshmerga” who are fighting Iraq, Iran and Turkey for an independent tribal homeland of Kurdistan.
Islam is at war with itself. The war in Syria is part of a weaponised “Great Game” raging within its heart — the one between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. Both are wrestling for domination over the entire Islamic world. Airstrikes by Saudi-led airpower are the primary weapon of fighting wars and “boots on the ground” are unpopular.
The shadow of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) hangs like a pall over the entire strife-torn region. The Isis sees itself as an “army of God” that is on a divine mission to establish a rigidly Sunni pan-Islamic khilafat, owing allegiance to a “Supreme Khalifa”, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, and demanding the allegiance of Muslims worldwide.
“Self radicalised” youth — many born and domiciled in European countries since childhood — are attempting to answer that call, and are proceeding to the battle zone as putative warriors of Allah.
Further superimposed upon the entire steaming “witches’ cauldron” are the United States and Russia, which have more or less openly reverted back to the Cold War. They are attempting to reassert their “great power” status through initiation or intervention in local conflicts and “bush fire wars” in Ukraine and Crimea within Europe, and Afghanistan in South Asia.
Meanwhile, the United Nations is doing what it can to control violence through a series of ragged, ineffective ceasefires. Isis has overrun large swathes of Syria and is within touching distance of the Turkish border. Turkey literally exploded when two horrific bomb blasts ripped through a peace rally in Ankara on October 10.
Wahhabi Islam, with its record of extreme fundamentalism, has put secular societies like India on notice. All this is bad news for India.
Russia and the United States have launched extensive air and missile strikes against the Isis in Syria. Both countries now also appear to be mutually coordinating their airstrikes, though initially after standard denials by both. The airstrikes on the Isis are good news for India since Isis’ “Black Flags of Khorasan” have made more than one appearance on the streets of Srinagar in Kashmir. This internal threat is being repeatedly downplayed by the authorities — a mistake that may have serious consequences.
India has to be aware that though the war in Syria is quite far from this country’s borders as of now, there is a possibility that the explosive centrifugal forces it has generated will ultimately overflow their banks. It could link up with similar organisations in other parts of the world like Boko Haram in western and sub-Saharan Africa, Al Shabab in Somalia and increasingly in Kenya and other countries of eastern Africa, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in South Asia or Jemmah Islamia in Southeast Asia.
The immediate developments in Syria may not have direct bearing on India’s national security for the immediate present, but that is no guarantee that this may not occur in the future.
India has much to do to put its house in order. The murder of Mohammad Akhlaq and the lynching of his son by Hindu mobs in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, for allegedly eating beef, has opened up an ugly reality and confounded India that has always prided itself on its even-handed secularism.
This ugly reality requires priority action to track the killers and deal with them quickly and with the full force of the law. The matter has been debated and discussed enough by screaming and frothing anchors on almost all news channels. Results are expected and they must be seen. Nothing less will suffice. The killers of Mohammad Akhlaq must face the full wrath of the law.
However, this incident must not blind the country to the obverse side of the picture as well — the equally dangerous proliferation of fundamentalist Islamic organisations with trans-border linkages to the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment like the Student’s Islamic Movement of India (Simi), Al Ummah, the Indian Mujahideen and others.
These are supported by a particular category of politicians whose rhetoric exploits the concept of secularism and social justice for the purpose of shielding these anti-national entities under a cloak of perceived secular ideals. This is indeed a matter of concern to national security, which must be energetically investigated and dealt with under the provisions of the law.
The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament