Despite high stakes, India's silence on the crisis in Iraq is galling

Thus far, to be precise till the midnight of 15 June, the Ministry of External Affairs has not come up with its take on the Iraq situation which has serious repercussions for India.

Rajeev Sharma June 16, 2014 12:30:44 IST
Despite high stakes, India's silence on the crisis in Iraq is galling

Despite the serious and fast-paced developments in Iraq, India is yet to come up with any official statement.

One could have understood that in the times of the UPA government when the Prime Minister was perceived as a weakling and the government had too much on its domestic platter to dilate and comment on issues concerning foreign countries.

But now that India has a government which boasts of simple majority by the ruling party (the BJP) on its own for the first time in three decades, the expectations from the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are sky high – even on the foreign policy front.

Despite high stakes Indias silence on the crisis in Iraq is galling

Volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi Army to fight against predominantly Sunni militants from the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), carry weapons during a parade in the streets in eastern Baghdad as escalating violence. Reuters image

Thus far, to be precise till the midnight of 15 June, the Ministry of External Affairs has not come up with its take on the Iraq situation which has serious repercussions for India.

All that the MEA has done so far is to issue a travel advisory for Indian nationals in Iraq, about twenty thousand, largely located in relatively peaceful Kurdistan region.

The travel advisory issued by the MEA said thus: “In view of the precarious security situation prevailing in Iraq, Indian nationals are advised to avoid all travel to Iraq, until further notification. Indian nationals in Iraq may consider leaving the country by commercial means if it is safe to do so. Our nationals living in areas affected by the ongoing armed conflict are advised to stay indoors as far as possible and are advised to remain in contact with our Embassy in Baghdad for necessary advice and updated information on the evolving security situation. Those nationals who do not have travel documents or need other consular services are advised to seek assistance from the Indian Embassy in Baghdad.”

The MEA had issued a travel advisory for Indian nationals in Iraq in 2004 which was in force till 3 May 2010 when it was lifted. Since then the number of Indian nationals in Iraq has been steadily increasing, largely in the Kurdistan region comprising Erbil, Sulaimaniya and Dohuk governorates. These are the areas where Indian companies like Reliance, Jindal, Ajanta and Electrotherm have been sending their employees to.

A major power like India cannot remain silent on major developments in its near abroad which would inevitably have spin-off effects on India, both directly and indirectly, in near term as well as in long term.

India is the largest oil importer for Iraq. Despite the international sanctions, India has a bilateral trade worth over $20 billion with Iraq. India has similar trade figures with major powers like Japan and South Korea while Indian trade with Russia is a mere $12 billion.

Strategically speaking, whatever is happening in Iraq today with the rise and rise of al Qaida-affiliated ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), also known as ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), has direct security implications for India.

The Sunni outfit ISIS, after capturing major cities like Mosul (Iraq’s second largest city) and Tikrit (the birthplace of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein), is now knocking at the doors of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.

The Taliban-like rise of the ISIS has taken not only the Shia-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki by surprise but has come as bolt from the blue for the United States’ intelligence services which have been spending a whopping $50 billion per year. After Crimea/Ukraine developments, this is the second successive blow to the famed American intelligence network recently.

There are two blunt messages for India from the rapidly unfolding developments in Iraq. One, the jihadist elements are on the ascendant while the American power is on the decline. The second one impinges more directly on India.

It pertains to Afghanistan, India’s backyard and a soft underbelly.

The sudden upsurge of jihadist elements in Iraq comes barely three years after the Americans withdrew from Iraq. The Americans had installed an effective security and intelligence network in Iraq after their invasion and occupation of the country in 2003. This network started crumbling soon after the Americans left the country.

The end result exploded in the face of the Americans earlier this month when the ISIS suddenly emerged from nowhere and shook Iraq to its core.

The cold warning for India is this. If the American withdrawal from Iraq has threatened the very integrity of that country barely three years after the withdrawal, what will happen to Afghanistan after American/NATO troops withdraw from this land-locked SAARC country by the end of next year?

President Barack Obama has announced that only 9800 American troops would remain in Afghanistan by the end of this year and this number would be halved by 2015 end.

Therefore, Iraq is a chilling message for India.

In the more immediate term, the Iraq violence impacts India hugely as the international oil prices would zoom up. The trend has already started.

Iran is one country that has emerged strongly in the wake of the Iraq crisis. The Shia nation is working more pro-actively than the US in sending military help to the besieged Shia prime minister of Iraq, Nouri-al-Maliki.

Obama has hinted at US support to the Iraqi government and has already deployed an aircraft carrier in the region but has plainly said that there will be no American military boots on the Iraqi ground.

Ironically, the US and Iran, hitherto sworn enemies of each other, are on the same page on the Iraq crisis. The US ally Saudi Arabia, a Sunni nation, has been marginalized.

India has good relations with Iran. It is time for the Indian diplomacy to explore the Iranian route to bounce back into the chess game being played in Iraq.

*The writer is a Firstpost columnist and a strategic analyst who covered the Iraq War of 2003. He tweets @Kishkindha.
*The writer is a Firstpost columnist and a strategic analyst who covered the Iraq War of 2003. He tweets @Kishkindha.

Updated Date:

also read

Left to Right: In Jangalmahal, history of political partisanship, economic aspirations push voters towards BJP
Politics

Left to Right: In Jangalmahal, history of political partisanship, economic aspirations push voters towards BJP

Jangalmahal is now seen as one of the strongholds of the BJP, and the party claims it will win all seats in the region

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy: Govt must take cue from global examples, roll out targeted information campaigns
India

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy: Govt must take cue from global examples, roll out targeted information campaigns

Vaccine hesitancy has been compounded by the ongoing experience of surviving in the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated uncertainty

Myanmar coup: Civil servants, policemen taking refuge in Mizoram say ready to return and stand with 'our people'
India

Myanmar coup: Civil servants, policemen taking refuge in Mizoram say ready to return and stand with 'our people'

The early arrivals have been in Mizoram for more than a month. Their life subsisting thanks to the contributions of well-wishers and their hosts