Security experts, former diplomats and foreign policy pundits on Thursday analysed the implications of the on-going US invasion of Iraq and its fallout on neighbouring countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and even India.
The panel discussion by the experts followed the release of the report ‘Shifting Sands: Instability in Undefined Asia’, prepared by the Strategic Foresight Group (SFG), a private sector think-tank on security and governance issues at the Indian Merchants’ Chamber on Thursday.
Kicking of the debate, SFG president Sundeep Waslekar pointed out that oil was not the major factor for the attack on Iraq because West Asia and the Gulf regions cater to less than 15% of the US oil needs.
According to him, the US interests in the region go beyond oil. The sole superpower is primarily trying to establish a long-term strategic superiority, especially at a time when China and Russia are relatively weak, he said.
That explains why the US was engaging Iraq and not North Korea, which has nuclear weapons, or Pakistan, which sponsored terrorism, he said. Former Indian foreign secretary Salman Haider described the ongoing Iraq invasion as an “unjust war”.
“Oil is a consideration but not the prime reason for this attack”, he said. Mr. Haider observed that it was the US’s broader scheme to introduce its version of universal and political values.
Convenor of the BJP’s foreign affairs committee and former Indian ambassador to Iran S.K. Arora said that the US should have found other ways to eliminate the threats it faced post 9/11. “Today, unilateralism is not liked by many in this world. Unlike the 1991 Gulf war, the US stands isolated today”, he said.
Director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Air Commodore Jasjit Singh said the US objective is to bring about a regime change in Iraq. “It was way back 1998 that the Clinton administration passed a law, sanctioning billions of dollars to change the ruling dispensation in Iraq,” he observed.
“What we are seeing today is a reordering of the international system to suit the interest of the US. There is an assumption that the Palestine issue can be resolved if there is a change of regime in Iraq,” Mr. Singh added. According to him, oil is an important factor because the US dependence on the supply from West Asia and the Gulf is expected to increase by 60 per cent in the near future.
Director of the South Asia center of London’s King’s College, Chirstopher Smith, said that nobody knows what this war will unleash. “We are in unpredictable and dangerous territory,” he said.
Mr. Waslekar then veered the discussion towards the role of Saudi Arabia from where most of the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attack came. “About 31 per cent of the Saudi youth are unemployed. They are frustrated and join radical Islamic organisations,” he said.
Mr. Haider added that the Saudi policy is to maintain order at home and export disorder, perhaps unintentionally. Mr. Arora said the Saudi government was spending big money on propagating Islam all over the world including setting up madressas (religious schools). “The US is now likely to pressurise the government to go slow on this policy and institute reforms instead”.
Former ambassador to Pakistan S.K. Lambah said that madressas sprung up in that country during Zia’s rule. “Today there are about 50,000 madressas in Pakistan, which has churned out a million students. Some of these schools created the Taliban,” he said.