The implications of Iraq

Ajai Sahni’s article in South Asia Intelligence Review reflects the point I’ve been making in the discussion on my post on why a US victory in Iraq is in India’s interest, over at Living in India and BonoboLand.

The US Coalition’s growing troubles in Iraq are bad news for South Asia. Among the primary targets of Islamist extremist terrorism in the region, India has long seen a necessary convergence of its interests with those of the US-led global war against terrorism – though there have been differences over the discriminatory focus of this war, and the evident indulgence extended to Pakistan’s continuing support to terrorist groups. The increasing disarray in Iraq creates imminent dangers of an escalation and widening of Islamist terrorist activities in this region, even as it creates possibilities of intensification of violence by terrorist groups deriving their justification from other ideological streams.

The spaces for such a resurgence are created by two factors. The first of these is based on the nature of terrorism as a method; to the extent that it is seen to succeed substantially even against the world’s greatest military and economic power in Iraq, it will be estimated to have far greater probabilities of success against the weaker state powers within South Asia. This would be considered to be the case in all theatres, and with respect to movements inspired by the entire spectrum of ‘revolutionary’ ideologies.

The second of these factors relates to the diminished international focus on terrorist movements in this region, as events in Iraq (and, to an extent, West Asia) exhaust the greatest proportion of Western, and particularly US, attention. This creates opportunities and incentives for terrorists and their state sponsors in South Asia to intensify campaigns that had, briefly, been brought under significant pressure as a result of the glare of international publicity and the increased risk of international penalties after 9/11. It is useful to recall that it was the neglect of developments in South Asia – and particularly of the assembly lines of jihad in Pakistan and then Taliban-controlled Afghanistan – that contributed directly to the current mushrooming of global Islamist terrorism and the planning and execution of 9/11. While the armies and infrastructure of terrorism in Afghanistan were substantially eroded by the US-led campaign there, much of these simply shifted across the border into Pakistan, to join forces with a number of like-minded terrorist groups, many of them created and directly supported by covert state agencies in that country. Considerable American pressure on the Musharraf regime had resulted in some cosmetic curbs on these organizations, and a marginal decline in their visible activities. Such trends are now in danger of reversal, as American prestige suffers blow after blow in Iraq. [Ajai Sahni/SATP Vol. 2 No. 40]