Is Kulbhushan Jadhav an Indian agent?

Before going into the question raised in the title, let’s get into some details about some of the aspects of intelligence gathering employed by our external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).

The advent of technology has brought massive changes in the way spy agencies collect intelligence these days. But even the most powerful spy agencies believe that despite all the technological advancement, there is no substitute to human intelligence (HUMINT) gathering. For instance, even after employing all technical resources to track down Osama bin Laden, it was the HUMINT element that provided a key breakthrough in locating him.

All countries around the world do human intelligence gathering in other countries. Either they send their agents under diplomatic covers or cultivate assets in the target countries. Every spy agency in the world has its own modus operandi on carrying out such operations. India doesn’t have much HUMINT capabilities in the European countries or the US as it’s a costly affair to recruit assets in those countries.

But India does have intelligence gathering operations in neighboring countries and so do those countries have in India. The primary way they do this is via cultivating assets (mostly businessmen, traders, arms dealers). People do get caught while gathering information. In such cases, the target country registers their protest, may give consular access to the arrested person and eventually expel the person in question. China did send back an Indian businessman who was caught gathering information for India not so long time ago. Chinese don’t use their own agents to gather intelligence in other countries. Instead, they cultivate and use students, academic scholars, businessmen, and arms dealers.

There is also reluctance on the part of the Indian agents to directly get involved in intelligence gathering operations in other countries. The reason being the dismissal of some officers involved in such work in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh for not being able to give proper accounts of funds spent.

India-Pakistan spy games:

But the equation between India and Pakistan when it comes to such a situation is completely different. If such an opportunity arises where an Indian agent is arrested in their country, Pakistan would make every effort to milk the situation and create an international hue and cry to bolster their claim of Indian involvement in spreading violence in their country. And that is what it is doing in the case of Kulbushan Jadhav. The news of his capture and release of his video during the visit of their JIT team to Pathankot and Iranian President’s visit to Pakistan points to that. There are other domestic political/security angles too with the timing of the release of the information regarding this case.

Also, there are multiple versions related to Jadhav’s arrest. He was either captured in Chaman area (Pakistan-Afghanistan border) or Saravan area (Pakistan-Iran border). It is also not clear as to when he was picked up or who was responsible for his capture.

An interesting news report in the Mumbai Mirror has revealed that Jadhav’s “phone was under surveillance by the Pakistani agencies and they found something amiss about his conversations”.

“Jadhav’s habit of speaking to his family in Marathi and with extreme familiarity and comfort level in the language betrayed his cover his passport identifies him as Husain Mubarak Patel; but his mannerisms were nothing like that of a Muslim Patel,” the news report states.

We will never know the intricate details of why Jadhav was in that area or what was he doing there, under what circumstances was he arrested, who got hold of him first and so on. The Indian government will never acknowledge that he was working for the country. Once the agent is outed, he is disowned and all links to him cut off. That’s how intelligence works.

Road ahead for India:

It is an internationally established fact that Pakistan’s security establishment nurtures, supports and deploy various facets of its terrorism infrastructure against India and Afghanistan. Clearly, brandishing more than two decades of evidence of Pakistan’s state policy on terror in various international forums has had little impact on Pakistan for three reasons.

  • The United States of America turns a blind eye to Pakistan’s state policy of supporting terrorism for a variety of geo-strategic self-interests.
  • China continues to take advantage of India’s insecurity in calling out “Pakistan’s nuclear bluff.” The Indian security establishment must deal with Pakistan’s deployment of terrorism firmly without bringing the terrorist country’s nuclear-armed status into the decision-making calculus.
  • Saudi Arabia’s funding for Pakistan-backed terror groups enables the Islamist terrorism to flourish. It is important for Indian policy makers to understand that terrorism and its related infrastructure is the biggest contributor to Pakistan’s GDP and, therefore, vital for the survival of its conflict economy. Take away the industry of terrorism from Pakistan, the country will collapse like nine-pins.

Therefore, it is time Indian decision makers took a clear, consistent and firm decision to call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff and go on the offensive. In fact, this is what most Pakistanis secretly desire — the collapse of the terrorist country of Pakistan. Given the nature of multi-pronged security threat India faces along its Western borders, it is important for India to embed eyes and ears on the ground. Why should India be apologetic about the threat India faces from Islamic State aligned terrorist groups arrayed along its Western borders?

In fact, India’s security establishment should redouble its efforts to recruit hundreds and thousands of local Pakistanis to create a robust network of ground intelligence rapporteurs. It is in India’s interest to deepen democracy in Pakistan by neutralizing the terrorist infrastructure of Pakistan’s security establishment. Without this infrastructure the Pakistani Army and its terrorist organization, Inter-Services Intelligence, won’t survive for even 24 hours.

Dawood Ibrahim, India and Pakistan

Indian security and intelligence agencies have been chasing underworld don and the country’s enemy No 1 Dawood Ibrahim after the 1993 Mumbai blasts. The initial information gathering process about his various activities was initiated by former Joint Director of the Intelligence Bureau Maloy krishna Dhar.

What former Home Secretary and now BJP member R K Singh said recently about a covert operation to eliminate Dawood is correct. Ajit Doval, former Intelligence Bureau Director and the current National Security Adviser, had full information of his whereabouts and movements. But the covert plan did not work as allegedly somebody from the Mumbai Police leaked the information. (Read here for more info)

After that failed attempt, the thinking in India changed. The political establishment thought bringing Dawood back would be more advantageous politically then eliminating him. The United States administration had already conveyed to India that since Dawood was not a threat to them or the larger global community, they were least concerned about him. According to them it was an issue that India had to sort out with Pakistan and they had no role in it.

In 2013, there was some movement in bringing the underworld don back to India. Intelligence sources confirmed to Canary Trap in October 2013 that negotiations to bring the underworld don were at an advanced stage but two conditions put forth by Dawood have caused a delay in finalizing the deal. (Read more about conditions put forth by Dawood)

Also, its an open secret among security and intelligence agencies around the world that Dawood Ibrahim is in Pakistan. According to intelligence sources, Dawood is not much of a threat now as he was in the past. Most of his network in India is finished. He is still a big name in betting business, not just in India but globally. Dawood is more of a business don than underworld don now, with interests mainly in drugs, betting, and real estate.

So for Pakistan to hand him over to India and claim they are serious about addressing the issue of terror made sense. One of the hurdles that came in between was the military establishment in Pakistan. While the political establishment in Pakistan thinks Dawood should be handed over as he has served his purpose and is of no use anymore, the military establishment wants to keep him in Pakistan and use him at a later stage for negotiations with India.

Dawood’s latest photo, phone bills and passport details were leaked just before the NSA-level talks between India and Pakistan with the purpose of putting the latter on the back-foot and use the media to make this an issue. But the fact remains that Dawood Ibrahim staying in Pakistan is an open secret and Indian intelligence agencies who tried to bump him off in mid-2000 and bring him back in 2013 are aware of all his activities and movements since a very long time.

Collapsing credibility of Western media: An opportunity for India


Even the skeptics now agree that India shall be a power in the Asian century. To insure this rise to the top India must maximize all its assets. One asset for which it has a reputation is a lively media, a function of a relatively stable democratic order since Independence.

If information is power, it must follow that we start taking steps towards some minimal control over the sources of information. The liveliness of our media, bordering on license, exhausts itself primarily on issues of a local nature. BJP, Congress, dalits, minorities, rape, riots, corruption inflation and so on.

Major powers have to be seen regionally and globally too. This does not mean that we change our style of diplomacy, have ready-made statements on ISIS, the battle for Kobane, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Beijing, Ukraine, SAARC, the sharp right turn in European elections, the dream and reality of shale gas.

New Delhi must not make pronouncements each day, but the country must appear to be engaged in these developments. The impression that these are games only for the Imperial, big league, stultifies us under the colonial canopy. It is interesting that countries without a tradition for a free press – Russia, China, Iran – are making efforts to put across their points of view on International affairs. Iran’s Press TV, China’s CCTV and Russia’s RTV and a host of others are building up a reputation as credible sources of information. They tend to break the monopoly of the global electronic media. Fortunately for these new networks, this precisely is the time when the world is looking for alternative sources of news.

This quest is because of a straightforward reason: diminishing credibility of the Western media barring exceptions. Ironically, their credibility was higher during the cold war.

When war breaks out, the first casualty is always the truth. Since the West has been perpetually involved in conflict beginning with Operation Desert Storm in 1991, a year after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the media has had to do so much of drum beating that it has lost credit in the information market place.

The Emir of Qatar has always been contrary to Saudi interests. During Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in October-November 2001 and the occupation of Iraq in April 2003, Qatari owned Al Jazeera channel was bombed in Kabul and Baghdad for speaking the truth inimical to the House of Saud. Al Jazeera’s viewership grew exponentially.

Neither the West nor the Saudis had a media with sufficient credibility to mobilize the region during the Libyan operation. “The Arab Spring will blow away all the monarchies in the region unless we hang together”, screamed the Saudi King Abdullah. Qatar fell in line. But Al Jazeera had to tell so many lies during the Syrian civil war that Al Jazeera’s stock also sank.

This is the state of affairs in the global media when the world is riveted on ISIS, Ukraine, Boko Haram, Afghanistan and Ebola. These issues appear more incomprehensible by the day. The field is wide open for alternative channels.

Last week I received a puzzling call from Baghdad. The caller, whom I had met during my visit to Iraq two years ago, wanted my insights on the ISIS. He had read my syndicated column which had the sort of information the Iraqi media did not have.

Neither the government sources in Baghdad nor the resourceful clerics in Karbala and Najaf had any idea of what was happening in the ISIS controlled territories in Syria and Iraq. The local media was the government’s doormat. CNN and BBC could not be trusted.

In this state of affairs, independent news is a priceless commodity.

Western and Arab sources suffer from lack of credibility on any West Asian story. The West has vested interests protecting its version on Ukraine and Hong Kong. These versions are challenged by Russian and Chinese sources which, in their turn, are not free from angularities either.

It quite beats me that New Delhi has never recognized the enormous respect in which it is held globally. This is not because of its economic or military clout. It is because of its democratic institutions like the Election Commission. Its early commitment to non-alignment may have gone down badly with Josh Foster Dulles, but among the world’s intelligentsia, its image has been of neutrality. In my interaction with the world’s media, I have always found a ready acceptability for an Indian point of view.

Doordarshan had for a few months organized a comprehensive coverage of the occupation of Iraq in April, 2003. Its credibility had won record TRP ratings. Ministry of External Affairs had received word that Secretary of State Colin Powell had expressed a desire to appear on the programme.

In his first six months, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown considerable interest in foreign affairs. A multimedia outfit with a strong foreign affairs team, would raise Indian prestige enormously. And this, surely is the right time to start.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Caliphate opposed to Shia apostasy and, eventually to Sunni monarchies


The expanding Shia-Sunni conflict in the Muslim world is exposing vast gaps in popular understanding of the schism.

For example when Zaine El Abedine Ben Ali, the Tunisian strongman was ousted, people thought a Shia dictator had fallen. From this they extrapolated that the Arab Spring was an anti-Shia plot.

Why would such a misunderstanding arise? Because Zaine El Abedine happens to be a very typical Shia name in large parts of the world. The suffix to his name, Ben Ali, makes the name sound that much more Shia because the basic division between the sects centres on the personality of Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. Shias are “partisans” of Ali in this dispute.

A Sunni, with a Shia ring to his name is explained by a simple historical detail: the Fatimids ruled large parts of North Africa and Mediterranean enclaves from 909 AD to 1171 AD. They even ruled Sicily. The main church in Palermo, capital of Sicily, has a column with Quranic inscriptions which have been preserved as a tourist attraction. For two hundred years Moharram processions, a patently Shia observance, were mandatory on Palermo’s main roads.

Al Azhar University in Cairo derives its name from Fatima Zehra, the Prophet’s daughter. The late Sid Ahmad one of the left leaning intellectuals in Cairo with a regular Salon on the Nile described sophisticated Egyptians with a telling phrase: “Sunna bil Deen; Shia bil Hawa.” Which means: “Our faith is Sunni but our hearts are Shia” all traced to the Fatimid spell.

This kind of cultural confusion is widespread. There are a large number of Muslims who are born Sunni but respect “ahle bait” or members of the Prophet’s family a notch above others. All the Sufi schools in India, for instance, fall in this category. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Ajmeri’s famous quartrain in praise of Imam Hussain is cited as evidence of this streak.

“Shah ast Husain; Badshahast Hussain Deen ast Hussain; deen panch ast Hussain” (Hussain is my spiritual and temporal Master Hussain is my faith and the protector of my faith)

The Sufis came to India from Central Asia which had retained cultural and spiritual strands from the days of the Persian Empire.

They had spread out so wide in India that as early as the 15th century the great Sufi Malik Mohammad Jaisi was writing his great allegory Padmavat near Rae Bareli, making him the first great poet in Awadhi, preceding Tulsidas by decades.

Shia-Sunni equations remained blurred in many parts of the world because of the confluence of the streams with rapidly advancing Sufi mysticism. For instance the Fatimids left behind an ambiguous Islamic culture on this count in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan and the Levant.

For decades Syrian and Iraqi Islam had a heavy overlay of atheistic Baathism. Religion surfaced in a big way only after the US occupation of Iraq in April 2003. It became almost necessary for the US to encourage Shia power because they needed televised images of Iraqis celebrating Saddam Hussain’s fall.

Habitual Baathists could not overnight appear on the streets as pious Sunnis, denouncing the man they lived in awe of. During the 1992 Shia uprising in Karabla, brutally suppressed by Saddam Hussain, hundreds of thousands of “troublesome” Shias had been settled in a ghetto named Saddam city on the outskirts of Baghdad.

When crowds did not materialize on the streets of Baghdad to celebrate the televised pulling down of Saddam Hussain’s statue at Firdaus Square on April 9, 2003, a request was placed with Shia leaders like Muqtada Sadr to mobilize celebrations. That is when the streets were filled with Shias from Saddam city to provide visual support to US success. Promptly Saddam city was renamed Sadr city. Does it make sense that in ten years of US occupation, Baathists first reverted to being devout Sunnis and have now mutated into the likes of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, leading the faithful into the Sunni Caliphate, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Baghdadi belong to the virulent school of Ikhwan ul Muslimeen opposed to “Shia apostasy” as well as to “Sunni monarchies”.

The Caliphate appears to be a more recent idea which gestated during the brutal campaign in Syria which failed to affect a regime change in Damascus. The embarrassment of those who funneled support to the opposition against Bashar al Assad in Damascus is now enhanced by the durability of Nouri al Maliki in Baghdad. He tried and ousted the Sunni Vice President Tariq al Hashemi who was something of a Western favourite and for that reason suspected by the Iranians.

There are interests in the Syria-Iraq corridor who are under the control of their Western and Saudi sponsors. Aggravating the current situation is the fact that, with time, these controls are loosening. Additionally, a wide range of other Sunni groups who have suffered considerable status reversal, are clustering around an Abu Bakr al Baghdadi like figure, not because they want a Caliphate, but because they wish to weaken and oust Maliki in Baghdad and, if possible, Assad in Damascus.

It is worth noting that while mounting the brutal air and naval attacks against the Palestinians in Gaza, the Israelis are citing the “Caliphate” as the menace they fear Palestinians will eventually gang up with. There is no mention of Hezbullah and Iran.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Why is the world in grip of jehadist menace?


Three momentous events, all in November-December 1979, are the genesis of a great deal of chaos the world faces today.

First, was the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Teheran and the Iranian occupation of the US embassy, a siege which lasted 444 days. The siege began on November 4.

The Iranian Revolution coincided almost exactly with the siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca on November 20, 1979. Armed Wahabis charged with the missionary zeal of the Ikhwan ul Muslimeen or a virulent Muslim Brotherhood, opposed to the Saudi monarchy, occupied the mosque.

The cloak of secrecy the Saudi state threw on the fifteen day siege, gave rise to rumours that Iran of the Ayatollahs was involved. Neither the Saudis nor their American backers were interested in absolving Iran of the outrage. So they allowed the rumour to stand.

The siege was actually a manifestation of widespread anger with the Saudi monarchy’s minimal shift away from Wahhabi puritanism. There was universal disgust with the substantial American presence around the oil wells of Dahran. The rebels saw the “American infidel” as a harmful influence on Wahhabi faith.

The twists and turns the media gave to the story fuelled anti-Americanism worldwide. The US embassy in Islamabad was set on fire.

Just then the Soviets obliged. They moved into Afghanistan on Christmas eve. This became the third momentous development of 1979.

The world’s eyes were fixed on the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Islamic revolution in Teheran. The far reaching potential in Juhayman al-Otaybi’s revolt to topple the House of Saud was diligently hidden from public view.

The Saudi ruling clique, including Minister for Internal Security, Prince Nayef, found in President Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, a willing partner to transform danger into an opportunity.

Otaybi’s Jehad against the Saudi state and against the Americans would be transformed into a 20th century crusade against Soviet Communism. Once the Soviets were overcome, Iranian Shiaism would be the next target. Then Akhwan ul Muslimeen or Muslim Brotherhood, (as in Egypt recently) and so on. Internal anger in Saudi Arabia would be given an external outlet, almost in perpetuity.

Saudi security would be tied to enemies outside its borders. Take for instance, the illogical situation in Bahrain which is linked by the 37 kms Causeway to Saudi’s oil rich, Shia dominated, Eastern regions of Dammam and Qatif.

Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy, the House of Khalifa, treats 80 percent of its population, which happen to be Shia, as “the opposition”. The forward looking crown Prince Salman Kahlifa along with a US diplomat, Jeffrey Feltman, created a mechanism for greater Shia participation. But before the agreement could be inked, Saudi tanks rolled down the 37 km causeway linking Dammam to Bahrain. The message to the incipient, internal rebellion was loud and clear: look, we are holding Shia apostasy at bay. They may live, but they may not have power.

On the Muslim world’s centre stage, the Nayef-Brzezinski duet roped in Pakistan’s Zia ul Haq for a mass production of Mujahideen in Afghanistan. These would fight the Soviets and be a bulwark against Shia Iran. Zia would help Arabize Pakistani Islam and wrench it from India’s composite culture.

Meanwhile, the Saudis cooked up a parallel plot. Soviet and Nasserite socialism held sway over Aden and south Yemen. While the Caliphate ended in Turkey in 1924, the Imamat, a more Shia-like institution, lasted in North Yemen until 1962. To check Soviet and Shia influences in the two Yemens, training sanctuaries for Jehadists were set up under the supervision of Mohsen al Ahmar, half brother of Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh. These trained Jehadis have today morphed into Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

From Aden to Somalia is a short boat ride. This is a simple logistical explanation for the expansion of Al Shabab terrorists into neighbouring Kenya and beyond. A brigade strength Indian Peace Keeping Force (bag pipes and all) was dispatched under Gen. Mono Bhagat in 1994 to quell the civil war after the fall of Somalian strongman, Siad Barre, in Mogadishu. I have extensive TV footage of this campaign. It was a vicious inter clan conflict. Somalia was a peculiar country: violent but totally secular. That is why al Shabab is a puzzle.

Likewise, one could never have imagined Jehadism in Qaddafi’s Libya either. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton materialized in Tripoli she spoke the memorable line: “I came, I saw and he died”. The split screen had her in one half and Qaddafi in the other, screaming, sodomized by a knife.

An efficient dictatorship was thus transformed into a series of feuding tribes. Jehadists, identified as the ones involved in the Danish cartoon mayhem, began to populate Benghazi where eventually US ambassador Christopher Stevens was murdered. Jehadi legions crossed into southern Egypt on the one hand and past Niger into Mali, desecrating the great Sufi mosque of Timbaktu, exactly as the Taleban in Afghanistan had blown up the Bamyan Buddha. Further south, the boost to Boko Haram in Nigeria and Islamic militancy along the Sahel, all derive their DNA from Afghanistan, after the triple tumult of 1979.

More recently the inability to oust Bashar al-Assad from Damascus and the durability of Nouri al Maliki in Baghdad where Sunnis suffered their first status reversal once Saddam Hussain and the Baathists made way for the first Shia government, have added to Sunni rage, stoked by Saudi Arabia.

When Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, all with American and European help, provided men, money and arms for the civil war in Syria, Sunnis began to sense power. Now external support is drying up. The moment therefore has produced the man. In the persona of Abu Bakr Baghdadi of the ISIS, has emerged a latter day Otaybi, independent of all past sponsors, turning viciously to bite the very hand that feeds. Americans are beginning to learn yet again an old lesson: in the ultimate analysis, there are limits to power.

Meanwhile, the worry in the subcontinent ought to be on a different count: is a Baghdadi like danger possible in our neighbourhood?

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Iraq Hostage Crisis: Diplomacy and INS Vikramaditya


The abduction of more than 40 Indians by the jihadis belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) is the most significant development during this Sunni surge in Iraq and the region. Of all the extra-regional countries having geopolitical interests in the region, India’s stakes are the highest.

In the recent years, Iraq has emerged as the second largest supplier of crude to India. This primarily was engendered by the US sanctions on Iran, which from being the second largest supplier, after Saudi Arabia was pushed to the fourth. The shift from Iran to Iraq has arisen mainly out of our compulsions of accommodating the US strategic imperatives in West Asia.

The capture of the Iraqi oilfields by the ISIS jihadis is a major setback to the energy security of India. It may be underscored that Iraqi crude supply to India was on a ‘nomination’ rather than ‘open bid’ basis.

It must be stressed that India is the fourth largest energy consumer in the world. The energy import bill of the country has been spiraling because of increased demands and various other avoidable factors such as NGO imposed slowdown in coal mining. Despite huge reserves of coal, in the last fiscal year, India imported coal worth $14 billion. Nuclear power projects have also been affected by externally funded NGO activism. For India’s energy basket the overwhelming dependence on oil imports is likely to persist at least in middle term perspective.

For energy deficit country like India, even an increase in $1 per barrel price of crude oil, can have an impact of Rs.25,000 crores in the budget. As per the Hindustan Times, dated 19 June 2014, an increase of one dollar the subsidy bill goes up by Rs.7,500 crores. Therefore, the increase in oil prices, which is likely to go upto $120 a barrel can have a deleterious impact on the new government efforts to bring down inflation.

Some analysts aver that there is a conflict between Indian interests and the Saudi interests with regard to oil prices. For India’s economic stability the price of crude needs to be at $98 per barrel or below. On the contrary, India’s largest supplier Saudi Arabia has the compelling interest of maintaining the price at $104 per barrel, below which its budget deficit could become unmanageable. Thus, the Iraq crisis severely impacts India’s crude imports from its largest and second largest supplier.

The question of the abduction of more than 40 Indians may not remain confined within the geopolitical space of Iraq. It has ramifications for the estimated seven million Indian expatriates in the Gulf region. The objective of the ISIS is to establish an Islamic caliphate in the region. It has not only Northern Iraq under its control but also a swathe of territory in Syria. If the momentum is not checked, these jihadis may well make the Gulf Sheikhdoms capitulate, as most of these country entities have little capacity to meet the  jihadi onslaught without external assistance. If the lives or well-being of the Indians are jeopardised by the ISIS, the Gulf States may not be in a position to ameliorate their condition. It could well trigger an exodus.

Economically too, the consequences could be severe for India. The seven million expatriate Indian workers are a source of remittances amounting to $30 billion per year. Therefore, the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) are not only principal source of India’s hydrocarbon imports but will remain critical to India’s wellbeing.

There has been much emphasis on India’s ‘Look East Policy’ but it needs to be be balanced by the ‘Look West Policy’. India’s trade with Asia is expected to reach $100 billion shortly, but may cross double this mark during the same period with the GCC countries. There is great potential in the Gulf for sourcing FDI, which remains underutilized.

The evolving geopolitics in the region seems to be headed towards a deep and unbridgeable Shia-Sunni fault-line. This is bound to have an impact on the Muslim population in India. This fault line has taken murderous form in our neighbourhood in Pakistan.

This dire situation in the region has been the consequence of US intervention in Iraq by way of ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’. Following ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ in Afghanistan, most of the Al-Qaeda had melted with the core leadership moving into Pakistan and some to Iran. However, the US intervention in Iraq, in effect provided safe havens and recruiting ground for the Al-Qaeda in the Sunni dominated North. Even as the debate rages regarding the nature of the ISIS, the basic fact remains that it belongs to the Sunni-jihadi discourse engendered by the US invasion of Iraq.

Subsequently, the Al-Qaeda type groups proliferated when the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ descended on the region. This curse of the Spring made the institutional capacities of eminently functional states weak, thus  imparting impetus to jihadi groups and discourse. In Syria, the Al-Nusra, a group owing allegiance to Al-Qaeda found indulgent benefactors like the US and Turkey. The Russian intervention in Syria foiled the US and Saudi Arabia’s designs of toppling the Assad regime. The US did not take kindly to this slight. Meanwhile, the tentative US-Iran rapprochement has compelled Saudi Arabia to harden its Sunni discourse in the region.

The ISIS cannot sustain without external aid and abetment. Whether the design is to create a permanent cleavage and create two distinct Shia and Sunni regional blocks in West Asia, is not known, but its possibility cannot be ruled out. It cannot be denied that the US posturing towards West Asia has undergone dramatic change since the country has struck massive ‘shale gas’, propelling the US as potentially the largest exporter. This gas can only find market, if it supplants crude oil.

These are the larger energy games being played out in the West Asia. Nevertheless unlike the West, India has more than economic stakes in West Asia. It is religious, social and civilizational as well.

The present hostage crisis, therefore should be accordingly dealt with. One cannot intervene in a sovereign state without invitation, as it has long-term consequences, specially in context of West Asia where long term energy imperatives are involved. Nevertheless, a mix of diplomacy backed by demonstration of military muscle (not intervention) can achieve the desired results. What good is INS Vikramaditya for, if it cannot support Indian diplomacy at this critical period and that too in the region.

(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)