May 23, 2012

Case against ‘non-interference’: New world order and clash of civilizations

by G. Parthasarathy


The Government of India has faced not even slightist criticism in Western capitals and even from its own "liberal intelligentsia" for not supporting Western attempts for effecting "regime change" in those countries labelled to be "rogue states," or said to be acquiring "weapons of mass destruction".

This Western propensity for "regime change" was justified ideologically, as the Soviet Union was falling apart and finally collapsed on December 25, 1991. In his thesis entitled "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 announced that he was making a move to "forge for ourselves and for future generations a New World Order".

While Fukuyama and Bush did not spell out what the fault-lines would be in the past-Cold War world, American academic Samuel Huntington was more explicit. In his thesis, "Clash of Civilisations and Remaking of the World Order," Huntington held the ideological conflicts of the Cold War would be replaced by civilizational conflicts "prevalent between Muslims and non-Muslims". Huntington held that the clash would be between Islamic resurgence and the demographic explosion of Islam on the one hand, and the values that western civilisation believed are universal and should be accepted by all civilisations.

Interestingly, Huntington drew pointed differences between what he called as "Western civilisations" comprising the US, Western and Central Europe and Australia on the one hand and the "Orthodox Christian World" comprising Russia, its Western and Caucasian neighbours, Serbia, Greece and Cyprus, on the other.

In Huntington's world-view, Russia, China and India are "swing civilisations" and could join 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 like Saudi Arabia and Iran. While what Huntington said about the likely view of countries like Russia, India and China, all of whom have significant Muslim minorities, makes sound geopolitical sense, one has to look at the results of what has transpired in the relations between what he calls the "Western civilisation" and the Islamic world in the years following the end of the Cold War.

Even as President George Bush spoke about a New World Order, his forces backed by his NATO allies and a coalition ranging from Australia to Syria, (now a target for "regime change"), invaded Iraq. The invasion ensured that the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was reversed and an American military presence established in Saudi Arabia. It was this American deployment in Saudi Arabia that led to Osama bin Laden, a former CIA asset, to becoming an anti-Western jihadi, who was to mastermind the 9/11 attack. This attack triggered President George Bush's "Crusade" against Taliban ruled Afghanistan, then the epicentre for Bin Laden's "International Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders". Oddly enough, when the Taliban took over power in the nineties and promised to permit American oil companies to transport gas from Turkmenistan to Karachi, a US official described Taliban rule as a "factor for stability".

In the meantime, the American invasion of Iraq in 1990 led to the deaths of an estimated 35,000 Iraqi citizens. The subsequent sanctions, sanctified by the UN and peculiarly interpreted by the US, led to the deaths of and estimated half a million Iraqi children because of the absence of medicines and adequate nutrition. This led then Secretary of State Madeline Albright to comment: "This is a hard choice, but we think the price is worth it". When the second American invasion of Iraq occurred in 2003 an estimated 1,51,000 Iraqis met their deaths. Nine years after the second American invasion, Iraq has been engulfed by Shia-Sunni convulsions, superimposed on the historical Arab-Kurdish animosity.

Moreover, the American actions had an unintended consequence that Huntington did not envisage. We now have a Shia-Sunni divide across the Arab and indeed 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, Libya and Yemen. There is no doubt that Libya's Muammar Gadhaffi was a tyrant. But, like Iraq's Saddam Hussein, he was a strong opponent of religious fundamentalism and medieval practices. According to the International Crisis Group, Gadhafi'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. Jalil has vowed to introduce Islamic banking and revoke Gaddafi's ban on polygamy. In Egypt, recent elections have produced a parliamentary majority comprising Wahabi 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 Wahabi 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 on 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 traditional Iranian-Arab rivalries have been accentuated by a growing, sectarian 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 regional dimensions and its impact on our interests, including the welfare of our nationals in West Asia and the security of our energy supplies.n

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