Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s tour to Belgium, US and Saudi Arabia comes days after the deadly bombings in Brussels, one theme of his visit is terrorism and currently its most virulent purveyor, the Islamic State (IS).
Brussels has emerged as a hotbed of IS in Europe, Washington leads the global war on the IS and Saudi Arabia very often finds itself in cross hairs of debate on terrorism.
As such, the danger posed by the IS and the strategy to combat it will dominate the discussions that Modi will have in the capitals across three continents. India’s own experience, as a victim of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and its vulnerability to the danger posed by the IS will be on top of Modi’s mind during the visit.
Modi will be tempted to share India’s experience in Brussels and in Washington. International community would like to hear from Modi how India has largely managed to insulate its Muslim youths from the IS propaganda and recruitment.
Modi must share India’s experience but given his proclivity to take centre stage, he must avoid the temptation of committing more than India can afford. He may be tempted to occupy front seat in the war on terror, particularly against the IS, than desired.
Pro active role in war on terrorism
India has been under pressure from the US and global community to play a pro-active role in the war on terror in the Middle East hot-spots such as Iraq and Syria. Fortunately India has resisted that temptation despite being one of the worst victims of terrorism in the world.
Currently, there are two narratives at work in New Delhi on the role of India. First, there are those who think that India is uniquely poised to assume a pro-active role in the war on terror dominate the Modi dispensation.
They would like Modi to assertively convey to the world that India as a victim of terrorism must do more in the war against the IS. This narrative also fits in with India’s status as an emerging power and its aspiration to take a seat at the United Nations Security Council.
Secondly, there are those who believe that the current policy of focusing on management of internal dynamics and Pakistan-centric terrorism best serves the country’s interests. They feel India must avoid the temptation to jump into the minefield of global war on the IS that can put the country at the centre of volatile international Muslim politics.
This line of thinking suggests that India has managed the interests of its Muslim population better than Europeans and other nations with substantial minority population. India is too bogged down in dealing with terror problems emanating from the sources in the subcontinent to look outside.
Europe is paying the price for its pro-active role while mismanaging its internal contradictions arising out of alienation of Muslim youths. Europe’s failure to integrate its Muslim population is coming home to roost even as the European powers are bombing the IS in Iraq and Syria. India must avoid taking the European route.
India has been lucky that less than two dozen Indian Muslim youths have so far joined the IS against almost 400 from Belgium and over 1,500 from France. However, India can’t afford to overlook the IS threat.
The IS has been losing ground in Syria and Iraq. It has been ousted from Palmyra in Syria. Now the battle against IS headquarters in Raqqa is on the cards. In Iraq, the terror group is losing the battle in Mosul.
However, its loss in Syria and Iraq is forcing the IS to fan out in other countries and vulnerable areas. Europe is already feeling the heat from the IS fighters fleeing from Syria and Iraq.
The IS will be looking to spread its tentacles to the subcontinent with renewed vigour. It has got a foothold in Afghanistan. It will be looking to enter into partnerships with the Pakistan-based terror outfits such as Lashkar e Taiba and Jaish e Mohammad to target India.
When Modi holds talks with the King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud in Riyadh, the entire of gamut of developments in the Middle East and the subcontinent will come up for discussion. Saudi Arabia is at a crossroad today. It’s under pressure on economic, internal as well external fronts. It’s coping with a deficit budget after then crash in oil prices. With Iran entering the oil market, the Saudis will be looking to protect their share of export to India.
India and Saudi Arabia will also be looking to enhance strategic partnership based on 2010 Riyadh Declaration to next level. Much groundwork was done during the Saudi foreign minister Adel al Jubeir’s visit to New Delhi.
The enhanced strategic relationship will cover cooperation on terrorism, maritime security, Saudi-Iran spat and stability in the Middle East. Modi will also have frank discussions with the Saudi leaders on Pakistan. Given its influence over Islamabad, Saudi Arabia has a vital role to play. But as Al Jubeir said in New Delhi the kingdom’s relations with India and Pakistan are independent of each other. There is not much room for manoeuvre for India.
Saudi Arabia’s cooperation and sharing of intelligence can be of immense help to India in tackling threats from the IS too. But Modi must resist overplaying India’s hand on the IS front.
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