The Iraq Crisis Puts India's "Strategic Partnership" with America Into Question

Commentary | July 09, 2014

EWI Board Member Ambassador Kanwal Sibal writes in The Daily Mail of the consequences for the U.S. and India in light of confused U.S. policy in the Middle East. Ambassador Sibal served as the Foreign Secretary of India from July 2002 to November 2003.  


See the full article here.

Current developments in Iraq expose further the failure of US policies in West Asia.

With all the resources at its command, of information, analysis and technical expertise, and the sense of responsibility that must accompany the overwhelming power it possesses, the US should not be committing egregious mistakes in dealing with an unstable region like West Asia, riven with historical enmities, issues of nationhood, religious extremism, sectarian conflict and terrorism.

Instead of stabilising the region and releasing forces that would bring about real improvements in governance, participatory politics, institution building and social modernisation, US policies have largely done the opposite.

This becomes glaring as the declared reasons for interventions are the promotion of democracy, pluralism, human rights and western values.


The Arab Spring, supposedly the harbinger of democracy in West Asia and evidence that Islam and democracy are not antithetical, has degenerated into an ouster by the military of a democratically-elected regime in Egypt that seemed determined to Islamise the polity, contrary to majority opinion.

After endorsing the toppled Muslim Brotherhood as a moderate force, the US now backs a military regime that is determined to decimate it in the name of democracy and human rights.

Libya's Gaddafi was eliminated in a brutal manner to general glee, and now lawlessness and political anarchy reign in the country.

The killing of the US Ambassador in Benghazi illustrated the folly of assuming self-imposed burdens to end tyranny in third countries and gift western freedoms to their peoples.

Pursuing ill-thought-out regime change policies, a peaceful street protest in Syria suppressed by force by the Syrian government became the peg for the West to hound President Assad, peremptorily summoning him to step down, threatening military reprisals, supporting a motley of violent opposition groups to force his eviction, all unmindful of the religious and ethnic diversity of the country and the danger of sectarian forces destroying its secular fabric.

With the country torn by a raging civil war worsened by external meddling, the cause of democracy and human freedoms in Syria has been buried under the debris of destruction there.

If military interventions in the region were intended to eliminate international terrorism, that objective has not been achieved either.

The US had wrongly accused Saddam Hussain of Al Qaida links. Afghanistan was attacked and the Taliban regime evicted for harbouring Al Qaida.

Although remnants of the Osama-led Al Qaida leadership remain in Pakistan, the overall success in vanquishing Al Qaida was cited as reason for US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Today, Al Qaida-linked forces are active across a much wider geography than before  - in Mali, Yemen, Libya and Syria - not to mention the emergence of various extremist jihadi groups, some even more radical than Al Qaida like the salafists linked to Saudi Arabia, a US ally.

Oddly, even as the US fights Al Qaida, its Gulf allies finance death-dealing jihadi groups promoting an ideology diametrically opposed to US's value-based policies for the region.

The contradictions in US policies have resulted in stultifying its regime change plans in Syria for fear of hard core Islamists taking over there.

Worse, Al Qaida has finally surfaced in Sunni dominated parts of Iraq and adjoining Syrian territory dressed up as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The US has either failed to closely monitor ground developments in Iraq and Syria, or is now incapable of controlling the emergence of these fanatical forces because of their links to some of its Arab allies and its own vanishing appetite for renewed military intervention.

Ironically, the US now seems open to working with Shia Iran to stem the rising tide of Sunni zealotry in the region.


In our region, US policy confusion prevents the use of those instruments at its disposal against Pakistan's complicity with religious extremism and terror directed against US interests in Afghanistan, that it has used liberally against Iran and threatens to use to modify Russian behaviour in Ukraine.

The release of prominent Taliban figures from Guantanamo Bay suggests preparatory work for a possible deal with this obscurantist force ideologically linked to extremist Sunni groups in West Asia.

The US seems less interested in confronting extremist Islamist ideologies, as they have used them in the past to achieve geopolitical ends, and more in channelling their hostility away from itself and, failing that, combating them.


Ironically, the country at the forefront of combating terrorism and extremist forces westwards of us is the main cause of their expanding footprint because of misguided policies.

In the quest to impose democracy, freedom and western values by force if necessary, it has unleashed forces of bigotry and sectarianism, placing the lives of millions in distress.

If ISIS claims it is out to unravel the Sykes-Picot agreement, the US intervention in Iraq was the first ominous step in that direction. India has been exposed to security threats because of US policies.

They have distorted relations with Iran, especially in the area of energy security.

From being our second largest oil supplier, Iran has dropped to fifth place, while Iraq has become our second largest oil supplier, with Indian purchases reaching $20billion in 2012.

But now our energy interests are threatened in Iraq because of policy errors of the political and military overlords of the region.

We should assess the impact of US policies in our western neighbourhood on our security. This exercise is important in the light of our "strategic partnership" with the US and the assumption that we have a convergence of interests globally.