A stable Pakistan is in Indias best interest if it is to remain insulated from the turmoil in the Arab world
India has voted itself a stable government which will last the full term of five years. The Prime Minister has made a good beginning by inviting the Subcontinental neighbours to his swearing-in, making a bid for peaceful relations. Yet elsewhere, ever since May 16, the world has been getting more unstable. The financial markets are registering one of the lowest reading for the volatility index, Vix. But that may be, as we used to say, a lagging indicator or one which looks only at stock markets.
Events in Iraq confirm what has been shaping up for the last five years at least. There is a massive and prolonged civil war going on between the Shia and Sunni Muslims in the territory of the old Ottoman Empire. The Western powers, at the end of the First World War, drew arbitrary borders and demarcated Syria, Iraq, Jordan, etc. The centre of the Empire became Turkey which has tried to maintain its position as a secular Republic. Yet the reality is that we have Shia, Sunni and Kurds co-habiting uneasily within that vast territory.
For years, the dream of Arab countries was to reunite the various separate regions. After the Second World war and the establishment of Israel, their desire was refuelled by the determination to drown Israel in the sea. Pan-Arab unity did not, however, deliver military victory. After three defeats in 1948, 1967 and 1973, the dream of a United Arab Republic collapsed. Since secular socialist regimes had been at the forefront of that promise, both the ideologiessecularism and socialismlost hold on the peoples of the Middle East.
What we have had since is the rise of Muslim orthodoxy. The oil price rise of 1973 and 1979 enriched the Saudis and the Iranians and other Middle Eastern oil exporters. Saudis sponsored Wahabbism which was their own local sect. Iranians had their revolution which put the Ayatollahs in power and created a strong Shia state. During the 1980s, both the big Cold War powers got humbled in the region. The US backed Saddam Hussein in his ten-year-long war against Iran, but that proved to be a war with no victors. The Soviet Union went into Afghanistan and again withdrew after a humiliating defeat.
The stage was thus set for the rise of Islamism with the Taliban