Friday, June 20, 2014

Iraq: Indian Partition and Afghan Jihad combo package?


Parallels with Partition of British India 

A foreign superpower militarily defeats local dictatorial regime,and introduces an electoral polity to a local populace, which has not been exposed to it in past. Elites of the second largest religious majority (around 30-35% of populace), who enjoyed (or have a perception of enjoying) power under the earlier dictatorial regime, now fear of being electorally swamped by the bigger religious majority. A full fledged 'Direct Action', sectarian cleansing and civil war follows. Been there, done that??

Parallels with Afghan Jihad

  1. No unified command/sole spokesperson in rebel ranks. Half of the Iraqi Sunnis (15-20% of Iraq's populace) are Kurds who will resist any Arab overlords from Baghdad (be it Shia or Sunni). The Arab Sunnis (the other half of Iraq's Sunni populace) are also a divided lot- Baathists, ISIS and many Sunni Tribals control different parts of NW Iraq and are coordinating tactically only to topple present Baghdad based regime. Some parallel here with the diverse lot of Afghan Mujahideens in 1980s/90s?
  2. A proxy war superimposed on domestic power struggle ( with Iran and KSA taking the place of Soviets and USA in Afghanistan )
  3. ISIS seems like an Iraqi-Sham version of Taliban.

Lessons for Iraq from experience of Partition and Afghan Jihad

  1. Those who ally with ISIS, may face a serious blowback later (like Pakistan and Afghan Mujahideen faced with Taliban).  
  2. A protracted conflict likely in Iraq unless rival Gulf powers back down (or one of them runs out of money or faces blowback from fanatics on own side). Afghan Civil war began in 1970s and is yet to end.
  3. A sectarian Partition in an environment of hostility may create  more problems than it would solve. It will take generations to undo the damage. 
  4. Since a mutually agreed foreign master does not exist, if the partition occurs, there is likely to be a highly contested border region (more like LoC in Jammu and Kashmir than Radcliffe line)
  5. Local Shia-Sunni minorities will suffer in general and perhaps cleansed near the contested border zones, if Partition occurs.
  6. Iraqi Arab Sunnis may end up suffering much more than Iraqi Shias- because of their far fewer numbers as well as fractured, non-elected rebel leadership with several extremist and authoritarian groups calling shots.

PS: It goes without saying, that from Karbala to Ottoman-Safavid struggle for Mespotamia to colonial Sykes-Picot border to the riches of Oil Fields to Saddam's rule to Iran-Iraq War to Kurdistan's struggle for independence to Syrian civil war to Maliki's triumphalism, the region has a unique history of its own. The attempt here was to look at the event (perhaps in a very imperfect way) from the lense of South Asian crises that have played out along similar lines.