World Peace on shoulders:The future after An Evening In Paris

New Delhi,Satish Mutatkar: It looks like the movie ‘our-enemy’s-enemy-is-our-friend-till-he-becomes-our-enemy’ is playing out in the latest war theatre. We have seen this one before, with USA and al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden in lead roles. Like Dhoom or Singham sequels, these movies always end the same way: The Good Guys, meaning the USA and Allies, declare victory at some point and wait till the Producers, meaning the US Military-Industrial complex, finds the next ‘baddest ever’ guy around so that the war machine is kept well oiled. Will the ending be different this time around?

Putin Obama

There is no pussyfooting around the fact that the world has a huge problem with Islamic State or ISIS and its interpretation of Islam. No religion sanctions rape, so let us not even bother to bring religion into the discussion. They are just a bunch of bad guys who happened to have lucked out so far, but this run of luck may be coming to an end.

To create a spectacular terror strike might have appeared to be good ISIS recruitment strategy, but to do it when 20 of the most powerful men on earth were about to meet in Turkey was plain stupid. It gave the world leaders the opportunity and the face-time they would never have got collectively, in the emotionally charged aftermath of the event, to get their act together. And you can bet that they did. Only a part of it has come out so far – anodyne apple pie, motherhood and condemning terror statements – but it is a no-brainer that a lot more was discussed and decided upon in Turkey. These leaders are used to taking decisions and collectively they get the heft that individually some of them might miss. So what are the decisions they might have taken, away from prying eyes, ears and aides?

Let us check the simpler boxes first. Go after ISIS’ financing and weapons. Blockade its oil. Choke off its internet recruiting campaigns. All this was already happening to an extent, but post the Paris attacks, the loopholes will hopefully be plugged. There have been several claims about ISIS receiving a lot of help​ from western agencies in its early stages, something which has angered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his friend Russian President Vladimir Putin no end. But all that may be ending. We can be certain that among their peer group, leaders whose countries were complicit in the earlier games would have been squirming. That must translate into iron-clad assurances to choke ISIS’ resources, irrespective of what sins might have been committed in the past.

Now to the dicey part. It seems extremely unlikely that in a gathering of leaders of democratic nations, no one would have brought out the handicaps that democracies suffer when confronted with a maverick threat like ISIS. To list a few:

i) Countries which are members of the UN are bound by the Geneva Convention which ensures that even during hostile times, countries follow certain norms. ISIS has no such limitations and it takes pride in flouting norms accepted by UN with impunity with its crude and horrifying beheadings.

ii) Some countries, particularly the European ones, have laws and conventions revering Human Rights, which make for heavy chains in a fight with an enemy which glorifies inhuman activities.

iii) All members of the United Nations are bound by The Chemical Weapons Convention of 1992. About other Weapons of Mass Destruction such as biological or nuclear weapons too, powerful countries have refused to use them, even when there are no formal treaty obligations, and even in the face of severe provocation.

How does this play out? No one ought to have any doubts whatsoever that in case ISIS gets its hands onto any form of a WMD or a Dirty Bomb, it will not hesitate to use it. And that threat will certainly be played up, paving the way for a possible nudge-nudge de facto nod to the battlefield combatants on The Good Guys side to use these tools if need be. Discussions about morality or otherwise may be kept for later, and enough smokescreens will be created along the way for doubts about ‘who used them?’ to be permanently created. But as largely Christian countries, The Good Guys are known adherents of the ’11th Commandment’ – Do unto others as they would do to you, but do it before they do it to you.

Will this solve the problem? No. The problem will not go away till the real issue which haunts USA is not sorted out. Boots On The Ground – this war cannot be won without them and a democratic President of the USA, whose consistent pitch has been military withdrawal, is in no position to sell this necessity to his countrymen. The US values the lives of its soldiers very highly, but it may be about to learn the lesson that you cannot remain the top military superpower without the ability to absorb a serious loss of battlefield lives. The baton may be about to be passed on to Russia and Putin. The loss of an Aircraft with over 200 passengers to ISIS’ bomb gives Putin enough political cover to absorb the loss of life that any ground action may entail. And France, smarting under a terrible terror attack will lend adequate support to Russia to make claims of a ‘coalition’ as credible as the US’ was in its Iraq war, with British help.

In a nutshell then, this movie also seems to be destined to go according to the same script as its prequels, except that the lead and support cast have changed.

But what about India? There is a lot of scare mongering going on right now about potential Indian ISIS recruits. Those fears seem exaggerated. The hardcore al-Qaeda or ISIS Middle-East centric appeals claiming an exclusive divine franchise have had very little traction with Indian Muslims. ISIS with its Arab roots cannot exploit any emotional connect with even the most disgruntled of Indian Muslims on a significant scale. Yes, some handful may get roped in, they might even pull off an incident or two, but a huge and continuous terror trajectory need not be feared. Moreover, available evidence suggests that any recruits netted by the Middle-East facing outfits get quickly disillusioned with the lowly status accorded to them.

Politically, on the Syrian chessboard, India is not even a pawn. On the positive side though, the happenings in Turkey must have given Modi a unique peek into the deal-making which goes on at The High Table and, being the quick learner that he is, he will figure out how to use that learning productively. For the moment, he could consider himself lucky if he got the other leaders to agree to anything more than a pro-forma ‘all terrorists are equal’ pious declaration of intent. We know that in real life, it is not so and that in the global eyes which matter, some terrorists have always been more equal than others. Who knows, there may be a lesson in the scenes about to unfold over the next few weeks about ‘how to defang an enemy armed with WMDs with the help of a friendly superpower’. If that happens, this movie will have some important takeaways for us.