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Friday 3 April 2020

Paris Alone Isn’t Burning

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Sugato Hazra
Public policy analyst based in Delhi

In India

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he birth of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham or ISIS, as we know it, was courtesy misplaced American foreign policy intervention. Its seed was sown in what editor of Foreign Affairs Gideon Rose called in a signature belief of the George W Bush Administration that Iraq was a crucial font of radical Sunni ‘jihad’. That belief led the US to attack Iraq as part of its first move in its war on terror. In the aftermath of the 9/11 strike, Washington DC did not have much problem in rallying the Americans in support of the cause. Little did the think tank realise the consequences of its move, busy as they are always in transcribing their faith in an alien culture.

America’s touching belief in democracy as a solution for all governance issues and unwavering conviction in the benefits of capitalism did not deliver the desired result in a land that was still grappling with the basic issues of human civilisation. It was no surprise that the US failed to put anything substantive in place of the Saddam Hussein regime that it overthrew.

Three factors compounded the American blunder. Its domestic conditions turned unfavourable to the long-drawn hostility in a faraway land — that too when the economy was not at the pink of its health. Second, with the first flush of anger over 9/11 subdued and likely political change due to the presidential election, Washington’s foreign policy priorities changed as well. Third and equally important was the local tribal groups turning stronger due to weak central administration post-US invasion. The already violence-prone the Middle East was a fertile ground for breeding of radical, armed mujahideen. This was further helped by what many enthusiastically called the “Arab spring” and espoused as a movement for democracy. Popular demonstrations swept across the Arab world in 2011 when the US was packing up from Iraq. Most in America and the West saw the changes as heralding a long-awaited end to the Middle East’s immunity to previous waves of global democratisation. They felt that al Qaidah and other radicals had finally lost the war of ideas. President Barack Obama described the uprisings as “a historic opportunity” for the United States “to pursue the world as it should be”. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed confidence that the transformations would allow Washington DC to advance “security, stability, peace, and democracy” in the Middle East.

Samuel P Huntington
Samuel P Huntington

Clearly, the US leadership had failed to take a lesson from the celebrated Clash of Civilisations theory by Samuel P Huntington. Simply put, the late political scientist had said that post-cold war the character of global politics had undergone a change, “In the politics of civilisations, the peoples and governments of non-Western civilisations no longer remain the objects of history as targets of Western colonialism but join the West as movers and shapers of history.” The attacks on the World Trade Centre and now in Paris are two stark reminders to that fact. This jolted the West so much that when Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the finance for the IS comes from some members of G-20 countries, the heads of those G-20 states merely nodded. As long as their interventions were confined within the Middle East or, say, southern Asia in general and India in particular, the Western leaders were happy. The attack on the WTC was viewed as a one-off event never to be repeated. Paris awoke them from their slumber. Here was their brother nation and White men’s blood; hence the message of brotherhood among forces like Russia and the US that do not see eye to eye on many issues including on who should govern Syria.

Where lies the solution according to President Obama? It is necessary to end the civil war in Syria. It is necessary to end the Shi’ah-Sunni conflict in Iraq. It is also necessary, said Obama, to engage local people in building democracy in their region.

Curiously, when India has been successful in establishing its democratic constitution in Jammu & Kashmir, successive US Administrations kept their eyes firmly closed to the infiltration of Pakistan-sponsored terrorists to disrupt the process. Democracies of the West have different rule books for different regions. IS has exposed the hypocrisy of the developed world rather brutally. When the death happens at home under the glare of global media and not in a remote corner of Udhampur or Anantnag, they take note. Former chief minister of the Indian province Farooq Abdullah rightly pointed out that the West gave “birth” to terrorism, which is now attacking its “creators”.

The vast killing fields in the Middle East and parts of Africa and South Asia are now too widespread for any military power to contain. Obama was candid enough to admit that even if the US troops occupied IS territory permanently, there is every possibility of terrorism taking refuge elsewhere. Pakistan is a case in point. The failed state houses terrorists, criminals, fugitives and even nuclear smugglers with impunity. Unfortunately, Western democracies winked at the failed state where real power rests with unelected army persons. Will they now wake up?

Will China and Russia join the Western democracies in building up a stable global democratic system? Will the Super 5 in the UNSC invite strong democracies like India to assist them in their search for peace? Imagine the curious structure of the UN Security Council. The 5 on the table neither commands influence across the globe nor have the ability to enforce peace everywhere. Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are all in turmoil. The wars have not only created vast killing fields but also generated waves of refugees. Gone are the days of short-term deployment of troops, intervention by proxy or preaching from well-arranged conferences. Global peace needs global participation. It needs a humane approach even when dealing with fundamentalists. Did the Western powers try what is known as back channel diplomacy to win over the people in, say, Mosul?

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind behind the Paris attacks, has been killed in police action
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader of the Paris attacks, was among those killed in a French police raid on 18 November

History has shown that war cannot end a conflict, but patient negotiations can. This is critical for dealing with the IS which has proclaimed itself as the worldwide Caliphate. Its leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is the Caliph! As “the Caliphate”, IS claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. While leaders of the Muslim world are worried of their own authority, there are many individuals — particularly youths — across continents who feel that the ‘discrimination’ against the Muslim world could be corrected through expansion of the IS’s authority. Many such converts are keen to stake even their lives for the cause, as did a few in Paris. Obama has conceded that containing such determined souls is difficult.

The solution lies in global cooperation to build a consensus in which even the ‘Caliphate’ should be invited to take part. Jingoist statements from French President François Hollande or muscle-flexing by Putin will not serve the cause. Bring in the affected people on a discussion table, win their support, engage with the perpetrators of terror and send the message that the world wants peace and has no intention to attack Muslims. Now is the time for the world to put an end to the clash of civilisations and build a durable coalition with them.

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