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Geo-Political Security Meltdown?

All movements that start with religious connotations tend to end up far removed from their original aims and objectives. While religious activism is quite deep-rooted in religion, it can be manipulated by motivated interest. Through the ages charlatan-ism is endemic among the leadership cadre of such movements, pure unadulterated motives are easily overwhelmed by those who do not share the same altruism. Muslim protest, which started in sincere earnest against the publishing of the Danish outrage, now seems to be provoked by motivated interests to become an outrage by itself because of the violence it has given birth to. To add to this, the desecration of a most holy muslim shrine in Samarra in Iraq, has started another strife, this time sectarian between the Sunni and Shia communities. It has portents of spilling over the borders of Iraq to all the territories inhabited by the Muslim Ummah, crossing an already fragile fail-safe line that holds the balance between peace and strife.

The Indian War of Independence (or the 1857 Indian Mutiny if you are British) did not start as a War of Independence by the Indians against their British masters. The great British war machine in India was primarily native troops officered by the British, pure British regiments were literally a handful in numbers compared to the vast Indian rank and file manning the East India Company war machine. The trouble started with the induction of new rifles that had a cartridge whose end had to be bitten off before the cartridge was loaded into the rifle. The muslims feared that the grease at the end being bitten off was made from pig fat, conversely the Hindus thought it was of cow fat. Entire regiments mutinied or were disarmed wherever they could be. Anyone with a grouse against the British joined the revolt, even those without a grouse but only intent on pillage and rape  did  so.   New leaders appeared everywhere, some with pure motives and some without. The old relic of a Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, with his authority confined to the parameters of the old Delhi Fort, was made almost unwillingly the symbol of the upheaval against the British. Religious sentiment coalesced into a national movement for freedom. This is just one example of someone turning a religious reason into a political statement of revolt.

The equation is easy to decipher in Pakistan, the Opposition led by the religious alliance, is using the opportunity to do what they have been trying for the past several years without success, unseat Musharraf from power. Except for the President, the PM, etc few others in the Government must be relishing the impending visit of US President Bush in the first week of March (thankfully not on the Ides of March) as much as the religious parties, his arrival in Pakistan is an heaven-sent opportunity for them to bring things to a head. Even if the visit passes relatively peacefully, things will hardly simmer down in the near future. With Pakistan in some turmoil, with Iraq teetering on the verge of civil war, with the Taliban resurgent in some areas of Afghanistan, with Iran expecting some hostile initiative from the US, and with Israel-Palestine relationship at a low-ebb because of the Hamas electoral victory, etc what can one expect in the region? With the US military already extended in Iraq, a ground war against Iran with the US going it alone, is out of the question. What happens if civil disorder punctured by terrorist acts become the norm in the Middle East?

Anyone with even scant knowledge of the “Principles of War”, and it is applicable in terrorism as much as in modern warfare, will appreciate that Afghanistan is not “vital ground”, the Persian Gulf is. Despite all the rhetoric about going the distance it is most likely US troops will pull out of Afghanistan in the near future,   rather  than  out  of  Iraq.  For the moment US troops are being replaced by NATO forces but what happens when NATO countries begin taking casualties in some number? The US may keep a token presence in Afghanistan to ensure Hamid Karzai, who is probably more fearful from his friends than his enemies, doesn’t take off into the blue yonder.

The Hamas victory is both challenge and an opportunity, provided Israel and Hamas are both ready to bite the bullet. The world mostly gets to see the suicide bomber-side of Hamas and is repelled by it. There is the other side that provides free soup kitchens, medical clinics, schools, etc and has an incorruptible reputation as compared to the very corrupt image of Fatah. History is replete with instances of violent parties changing personality once they come into government and starting to behave responsibly as they begin to bear responsibility. Hamas is now faced with that acid test, providing not only good governance but providing a State to a stateless people. That can only happen if they deal with Israel. While one can understand Israel’s reluctance to deal with leaders who have sent suicide bombers into their midst, to isolate Hamas would be tantamount to getting more of the same, to go back to the blood-strewn streets that preceded Israel’s Gaza pullout. If Sharon can win his last Hurrah from his bed-ridden coma state for his Kadima party in the coming elections, peace will have a chance. Demonizing Hamas for its known violence would be a bad option in the face of their very human initiatives for the Palestinian people. If Israelis elect Benjamin Netanyahu in the coming elections or put his Likud Party in position to make a coalition Government, there will be a peace meltdown in no time, it could possibly set off a regional conflagration as others are drawn into the confrontation despite their reluctance to do so.

The linchpin to the possible domino effect is what happens in Iraq.   Iraq  is  presently balanced on a very precarious fail-safe line. With the discovery of possibly large oil reserves in the Western Desert (primarily Sunni areas), Shia, Kurd and Sunni areas all having oil could even out the equation to national unity. Conversely a Shia-Sunni strife alongwith assertions of Kurdish independence could bring the Iraqi house of cards down. It could also embroil Turkey in a general conflagration to prevent Kurdish independence. In any case neither Syria nor Iran would allow their Kurds to secede either. If the violence within Iraq doesn’t abate soon, Iraq’s division and re-drawing of Middle East boundary along lines suggested by Col TE Lawrence (even before World War I) could be the only situation.

The good news is that Iran and Russia have reached a nuclear deal in which Tehran may give up uranium enrichment at home, details are not yet known (or maybe not even thrashed out). If this prevents the UN sanctions against Iran, and even a US and/or Israeli attack on Iran’s known nuclear facilities, it will certainly prevent a regional security meltdown. While US would probably never commit ground troops in Iran, it would have to maintain a strong presence in UAE and other Gulf States to deter possible Iranian retaliations. While the GCC countries are now relatively stable, Iran could try and hit US troops and bases there. A few stray bombs could encourage an expatriate exodus, destroying the economies of these booming countries. While Armageddon may not engulf the Gulf yet, an economic meltdown to follow a security collapse could force-multiply a presently wonderful situation into disaster.

One doesn’t like mouthing fears of Doom and Gloom, but many wars have been fought for substantially less than what is at stake presently in the region. One can only hope that the principal players will act with maturity and responsibility to prevent a possible security meltdown.

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