Starting from the US’ acquisitions in Iraq and Afghanistan to combat Islamic militancy, we saw the strong rise of Islamic radicalisation primarily in the Middle East and Pakistan, now moving on to Indonesia, Somalia, Nigeria and the horn of Africa
The state of civil unrest in Syria, as a consequence of anti-government protests, started due to the Arab Spring. At its initial phase it transformed into a civil war, then into a proxy war with the indirect involvement of regional actors and might soon turn out to be a conventional war with the recent direct escalation from global state actors in this mix. Simultaneously with Syria, the situation in Iraq is also becoming more and more atrocious and awful with each passing day.
The growing militancy, massive refugee displacement, unpopular and incompetent governments, endless polarisation and crumbling economies are the core traits of Muslim states and, with the latest political crises within Muslim countries, there is a major conflict expanding across the region. The main catastrophe in this scenario is a lack of realisation throughout the Muslim world, while the global powerbrokers are stretching their legs in this crisis to yield maximum profits.
The Arab Spring episode brought a paradigm shift in the political landscape of the Middle Eastern region. The unrest that started from Tunisia moved towards Algeria, Jordan, Oman, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Iraq, Mauritania, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain and Palestine, and created a state of uncertainty and chaos along with a political vacuum that has led to the development of armed insurgencies in the whole region. Social media played a key role in the Arab Spring. It introduced altogether new political trending and the fact that now the sphere of crises and conflicts has no boundaries — the Paris attacks are evidence of the fact.
The expansion of Islamic State (IS) in the global political scenario is undoubtedly of great importance. This phenomenon is not limited to the Middle Eastern region; its scope has stretched to every nook and corner of the international political arena. Islam versus the west chapter of Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations was initiated on a massive scale with the beginning of the US’ war on terror after 9/11 and is now at its momentous and convoluted turning point.
Starting from the US’ acquisitions in Iraq and Afghanistan to combat Islamic militancy, we saw the strong rise of Islamic radicalisation primarily in the Middle East and Pakistan, now moving on to Indonesia, Somalia, Nigeria and the horn of Africa, finally striking right at the centre of the western world with strong muscle. IS initially took advantage of the political vacuum and socio-economic disparity among the people of the Muslim world, now endeavouring to capitalise on the west’s war games in the Muslim world to exploit anti-Islamic sentiments that are erupting as a result of the counter-extremism actions that are principally taking place against Muslims in the western world, specifically in Europe after the November 13 incident.
Anti-Islam hatred and the suppressive political game plan by rightists in Europe will generate an Islam versus west narrative and will further strengthen the position of IS in the Middle East and elsewhere. This will even push moderate Muslims in the west towards IS as the perspective that the western establishment has launched a crusade in the Muslim world, especially in the Middle East, will successfully prevail.
The west needs to reinterpret its understanding of political Islam. They have to differentiate between insurgents and Islamists. Their policy of persecuting political Islam is counter-productive and creates hazards for collective peace and security. They have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of Islamist insurgents, especially IS. IS, unlike other insurgent groups, has firm control over a huge piece of land. It has up to some extent established a de facto state but this is not the only reason behind its success. It is their anti-imperialist ideology that is providing them real strength.
Chances are bright that there may be some strong reaction from IS in the Caucasus against Russian aggression in Syria, which might result in a global alliance between all the major global powers against IS. According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW): “IS includes an estimated 7,000 foreign fighters from the former Soviet Union and has declared its own governorate in Russia’s restive North Caucasus region.” Already, France and Russia have agreed to anti-IS coordinate sharing and the US is also thinking of collaborating with Russia against IS. This could turn out to be a battle between the haves and have nots as is happening in Africa. The deprived community is rapidly moving towards Boko Haram and Al-Shabab.
Therefore, it is important at this point to understand the emerging global political picture. The world’s politics are vigorously moving towards multi-polarity in which transnational actors are proving be significant stakeholders. Military operations against them are not productive; Senator Rand Paul, the most rational US presidential candidate, referred to a study conducted by Rand Corporation in 2008 called ‘How terrorist groups end’. Rand took a sample of 648 terrorist groups that had been operating between 1968 and 2006. Forty percent of conflicts were countered by the effective establishment of law through local police and intelligence agencies. Forty-three percent of the conflicts were resolved through political arrangements while military operations have only been successful in seven percent of the cases.
Hence, it is high time for the international community to look towards a political settlement of the Middle Eastern crisis. Already, Iraq and Syria have lost a large portion of their boundaries and the chances of its reversal are quite faint. The international community has to provide some sort of political recognition to insurgent groups in order to bring them to the dialogue table.
There is an urgent need for a ceasefire to contain the refugee crisis along with the Congress of Vienna to re-draw the lands of Iraq and Syria but, unlike the 19th century, before the end result of a war in Syria. The ambitions and aggression of western forces also needs to be contained together with IS. The war has moved into a decisive phase and the current battleground might incorporate the land of Libya and Sinai very soon. So it is quite difficult to predict the end game in this scenario. Keeping in mind the worst of outcomes, it is better to resolve the crisis before it is too late. In case IS gains more strength with the expansion of the conflict, there will be an altogether new balance of power politics and the restoration of the current global order will not be possible.
The writer is a research analyst at Pakistan House. He tweets at @Ali_Jaswal