Recent weeks have seen a turn of events in the Middle East that is likely to have significant effects on the strategic picture emerging in the Af-Pak region specifically and the new Great Game in general. These are being discussed in muted terms in strategic discussions in New Delhi without much clarity or consensus.
The sudden upsurge of violence in Iraq, in the Fallujah and Ramadi tribal strongholds, has seen the return of al-Qaeda to seek its place in the sun in areas where it had been effectively neutralised or evicted by US and Iraqi forces. Obviously, with this message to the West about its survivability, al-Qaeda also appears to be spreading itself to gain an expanded footprint in areas beyond Syria, lest its effectiveness be questioned within its rank and file.
The expanded footprint in Africa does not satisfy its ambitions and would probably be seen as just a temporary hold out. Fallujah and Ramadi in the Anbar area are symbols of radical resurgence, a message to the world about what could be expected in Afghanistan after the ISAF drawdown and eventual pull-out. How seriously should this be taken by those analysing the post-ISAF scenario in the Af-Pak region?
Three aspects impinge on the events in Iraq. One, the internal Shia-Sunni discord within Islam in the Middle East is now reaching serious proportions. The rising power of the Hezbollah and the nascent improvement of US-Iran relations are possibly being viewed as the strengthening of Shia Islam. Two, the failure of the Arab Spring and the hopes it sparked creates a psychological space that needs to be filled.
If liberalism could not find place, then its replacement must be the radical ideology of one of the segments of Islam. Three, declining interest of the US in the affairs of the Middle East is leaving Israel freer to pro-actively confront its foes; its power cannot be allowed to proliferate. In the light of these, has al-Qaeda acted prematurely and revealed its possible intent and capability of what it can do in Afghanistan once it is vacated by foreign forces? Is this, therefore, an inadvertent message that the Western powers must factor in while assessing what post withdrawal Afghanistan may look like?
The US, while being convinced about the necessity to leave Afghanistan to the Afghans, would probably have to look at this turn of events more seriously. A trillion dollars each invested in Iraq and Afghanistan must give the US and its allies the payoffs of security and influence in these crucial regions. The strong Israeli presence in the Middle East and the balance the Iran-Saudi antipathy provides may worry the US less about the immediate future there. However, such a balance of influence is not continued…