India's Government has faced criticism in Western capitals and even from its own “liberal intelligentsia”, for not supporting Western attempts for “regime change”. The “change” was directed at those countries labelled as “rogue states”, or said to be acquiring “weapons of mass destruction”.
This Western propensity for “regime change” was justified ideologically, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991. In his thesis titled “The End of History”, American scholar, Francis Fukuyama, then proclaimed: “What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, but the end of history as such; that is the end of Man's ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human Government”. Even as American aircraft commenced bombing Iraq in August 1990, President George Bush (Sr) announced that he was set to “forge for ourselves and for future generations a New World Order”.
US academic, Samuel Huntington, was more explicit. In his thesis, “Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of the World Order”, Huntington held the ideological conflicts of the Cold War would be replaced by civilisational conflicts “prevalent between Muslims and non-Muslims”.
Huntington held that the clash would be between Islamic resurgence, coupled with the demographic explosion of Islam, and the values that Western civilisation believed are universal and should be accepted by all civilisations.
In Huntington's world view, Russia, China and India are “swing civilisations” and could make common cause with either the Western or Islamic civilisations, depending on the circumstances. He noted that Russia faces Islamic separatism on its South, but cooperates with Islamic countries to counter external support for such aspirations. He added that India and China do likewise, though China is keen on undermining Western influence by close ties with major Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.
While what Huntington said about the likely view of countries such as Russia, India and China, all of which have significant Muslim minorities, is controversial and debatable, one has to look at what has transpired between what he calls “Western civilisation” and the Islamic world in the years following the end of the Cold War.
Even as President George Bush (Sr) spoke about a New World Order, his forces backed by a broad coalition invaded Iraq, and an American military presence was established in Saudi Arabia. It was this American deployment in Saudi Arabia that led to Osama bin Laden, a former CIA asset, becoming an anti-western jihadi, who was to stage the 9/11 attack.
In the meantime, the American invasion of Iraq in 1990 cost the death of an estimated 35,000 Iraqi citizens. The subsequent sanctions sanctified by the UN and peculiarly interpreted by the US, led to the death of half a million Iraqi children. Secretary of State Madeline Albright stated: “This is a hard choice, but we think the price is worth it”.
Nine years after the second American invasion, Iraq is engulfed by Shia-Sunni convulsions, superimposed on its historical Arab-Kurdish animosity. Moreover, the American actions had an unintended consequence that Huntington did not envisage.
We now have a sharp Shia-Sunni divide across the Arab and Muslim world. Iraq which placed its Arab heritage over sectarian concerns during the rule of Saddam Hussein, distrusts Saudi Arabia and has moved closer to Iran.
The “Arab Spring”, which was the outcome of popular demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, has produced regime change in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.
According to the International Crisis Group, Gaddaffi's overthrow has led to national fragmentation, with Libya coming under the control of around 100 separate militias. Libya's new Western-installed ruler, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, has proclaimed that secular law would be replaced by Sharia law as its “basic source” of governance. Mr Jalil has vowed to introduce Islamic banking and revoke Gaddafi's ban on polygamy.
In Egypt, recent elections have produced a Parliamentary majority, comprising Wahhabi and Salafist elements, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, which has proclaimed: “God is our objective, the Quran is our Constitution, the Prophet is our leader, Jihad is the only way and death for the sake of God, the highest of our aspirations”.
In Tunisia, recent elections have produced a strong presence of Islamists in Parliament. And in Syria, a secular but brutal and minority-dominated Alawite regime is being challenged by a Sunni opposition, with significant Wahhabi tendencies, backed by a coalition of the US, the European Union, Conservative Gulf Arab Sunni Monarchies, headed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, apart from neighbouring, secular Turkey.
These developments are going to inevitably impact stability in the Persian Gulf, where six million Indians who remit back over $30 billion annually live, and from where India gets over 70 per cent of its oil supplies. We have a situation, wherein historical Iranian-Arab rivalries have been accentuated by a growing Shia-Sunni divide.
To add these complications is the American determination to contain the influence of Iran's clerical rulers and roll back its nuclear weapons capabilities.
India can no longer continue to chant its mantra of “non-interference” in the internal affairs of others. While rejecting foreign-sponsored regime change, each development will have to be addressed, bearing in mind its impact on our interests.
(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan)