Introduction – Confused Narratives:
Much has been discussed; theories, conspiracy theories, notions and narratives about a drastic geo political change in the Middle East in the last few weeks, with the rise of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) also now known as IS (Islamic State).
Though the organization is famous for changing its name in the past, along with its stated aims; this time the uprising in Iraq and Syria by IS took many by surprise. Apparently, based on the age-old Islamic internal rift between Shi’ites and Sunnis, the conflict scenario created by IS is much more than what meets the eye. Analysts are baffled, coming up with theories of drawing parallels about their activities and advancements along with those of Taliban Movement of the 90s in Afghanistan, others trying to find a hand of CIA and US security apparatus in the movement and a third narrative about a covert support by neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia is also on the table.
What so ever is the case, one thing is for sure, that the military advancements of ISIS werenot possible in absence of a secret intel apparatus that would have penetrated deep into its ranks, guiding or providing assistance in military strategies to the top tier of ISIS. With the unfolding events, perhaps a clearer picture of this saga will come forth for analysts to build a more concrete narrative about ISIS’ background and its support. Perhaps then, a clearer picture may emerge on the canvas for strategists’ to assess the situation for drawing down the results of ISIS’ assaults and advancements on Maliki govt. and its allies in Iraq and Syria.
Brief Background of ISIS (IS):
Although much has been written about the organization, a brief account for the readers is given here.
In October 2006, the Dawlat al-ʻIraq al-Islāmīyah or Islamic State of Iraq” (ISI) was created with Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi as ISI’s leader and figurehead Emir, while the Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri had actual control of the group – in April 2010, both were killed in a joint operation conducted by US and Iraqi forces. Following this, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi became the new Emir. On 9 April, 2013, having expanded into Syria, the group adopted the name “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” alternatively known as “Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham”. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced Caliphate on 29 June 2014, naming himself as caliph, and the group formally changed its name to “Islamic State” (IS).
Syrian Conflict: Shifting of Alliances:
Saudi Arabia and Iran are two key players in the Middle East. Any policy shift by these two not only affects countries and people of the Middle East, but has global implications as well. Unfortunately, both are also victims and accused of fighting their centuries old Shi’ite-Sunni war on the turf of other countries. Syria is one such example, but a strange war of narrative is fought on the relevant forums. Saudi Arabia never tried to hide its “secret hand” behind any Sunni insurgency in the region, but Iran has managed to support certain groups and regimes covertly.
Interestingly, through the development in Syria, Iran for the first time came out openly. The same covert support and the fight of the two mightiest in the region are also well recorded. Russia Today, Huffington Post, Washington Times and many other media houses reported the stories of both sides – like how Iran’s proxy Hezbollah openly supported the Bashar regime in Syria, Hasan Nasrallah blatantly stated in public gatherings that Hezbollah will carry on backing Bashar al-Assad. Tehran never hid the intentions of aiding Bashar Regime to counter the influence of Saudi Arabia in the region, while sending elite troops to aid Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
Whereas on the other hand Saudi Arabia was so keen to support Sunnis in Syria, that it ruptured its 40 years long relation with US. Many analysts presume Saudis helping rebels of the moderate Free Syrian Army in Syria as a ‘risk’, but to counter Iran dominance in region, although Saudi Arabia warned that it will act against West’s policy in Middle East, but refutes media claims of ISIS support.
Russia playing its cards cunningly, managed to force potential game changers like US to shift its alliance and Iran, welcoming them warmly, took an edge over its arch rival Saudi Arabia – national interest served at its best!
Afghanistan Scenario- India- Iran and US:
The eastern side of Iran i.e. Afghanistan – is the jewel of the eye for more than 50 countries of the world including US and India.
Obama has planned to end US military presence in Afghanistan by 2016, but it is also a fact, that US cannot afford to lose its grip on a region, where it has spent trillions and cannot leave behind Afghanistan with a power vacuum, where its allies may suffer in the post withdrawal scenario. This vacuum can only be filled with a country, declared as “lynch pin” of US in the global arena: thereby prompting India to hop into the wagon of newly crafted alliance through a staggering Billion dollar investment into Afghanistan to support US and its goals.
But how can India meet its strategic goals in Afghanistan that too in a post withdrawal scenario, where on one hand, Pakistan will certainly be eager to be a part of Afghan endgame-strategy and on the other hand Russia and China will be willing to engage Afghanistan for their own economic and strategic benefits. Without a support of land and logistics, with a support of intelligence and military of a third party in the region, India will definitely face a tactical setback, in a place which is considered to be the back-yard of its arch rival Pakistan, who had previously warnedthe US to stop encouraging India for a greater role in Afghanistan.
So how does the lynch-pin secure its own interests and those of its ally US in Afghanistan and subsequently in the region?
Iran comes into the picture here. India, desperately needs a hub, a base from where it can unleash its tactics with in Afghanistan and Pakistan to transform its ambitions into goals, thus expanding ties with Iran, on a larger scale while exploiting Iran’s Shi’ite sentiments here as well. The rise of Taliban within Afghanistan is considered as a potential threat to Shi’ite regime of Iran, so Iran naturally, had to ally with someone, who could stop a hard liner Sunni regime from emerging yet again just across the border. Intelligence circles are confident about their findings, where they equally blame Iran now along with US and India, when they see a regional office of RAW in Zahidan, from where India is managing all the covert operations inside Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Training of proxies like TTP and BLA and their hideouts within Iran and Afghanistan is due to a direct alliance of India and an indirect alliance with US. Iran is the new kid on the block, who wants her piece of the cake (presumably cooked by Uncle Sam), while letting her Shi’ite card exploited by external factors in the name of friendship and economic terms.
Rise of the ISIS: Change in Geo-Political Scenarios?
Iran was declared and praised as the most stable country of the Middle East. This was evident from its advancement in its East, within Afghanistan, and in Iraq and Syria. Saudis definitely felt the heat of the economic and strategic expansion of Iran. Iran successfully secured its interest in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria and to some extent in Pakistan through a joint venture of India.
But rise of the ISIS has directly affected and distracted Iranian strategists particularly from Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to some well-informed sources, Iran has been forced to call back its highly placed intelligence officials from Afghanistan. Reports of Iran sending its troops to secure Shi’ite holy sites and to secure Maliki regime from ISIS are already on the news, including a recent report of an elite Iranian pilot’s death.
Pakistan on the other hand, having been cornered by Indian strategists with the support of Iran, is feeling a bit relieved. The building scenario in Middle East, apart from its religious fall outs and claims of ISIS’ so called Caliphate, the strategic implications did play a positive role for Pakistan. India without the military, intelligence and covert logistical support of Iran, cannot turn its ambitions into goals; goals that were described by C. Raja Mohan as The great Game Folio: Iran Transit, which includes a latest One Billion dollar investment by India in lieu of humanitarian aid and an investment of $6.6 billion in the Hajigak iron ore mine. There were also reports of Indian troops deployed in Jalalabad, where India reportedly established a base to counter Pakistan.
On the other hand, Afghan Taliban coming up with a spring offensive, calling it “Khyber” is turning out to be one of the most lethal and successful offensives against the invaders. Recently, blowing up and destroying oil tankers worth $400 million in the suburbs of Kabul, is a message for the US and its allies like India to reconsider their plan of safe exit and secure stay at Afghanistan.
The situation in Middle East has drastically changed the geo-political scenario. ISIS, which is heavily under criticism from all mainstream scholars about their religious methodology and for their declaration of Caliphate, may fade away or become a menace in the long run, soaking Middle East into another decade of blood bath, nevertheless, it definitely turned the tables around in this region. The balance of power has been disturbed, thus a vacuum for Pakistan has been made, to play its cards wisely and to secure its national, strategic and economic interests in the region, and more specifically in Afghanistan.
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