I had published another essay on the Iraq crisis following the abduction of 40 nurses and how it impacted directly India's security in Iraq and beyond. The original Indian reaction was that "the violence there is not targeted at Indian nationals. We are just caught in the cross-fire." Whatever be the rationale, whether we were purposely targeted or caught in between, this new development has changed the dynamics for India.
Thereafter, even as India was concerned about the worsening situation in Iraq, New Delhi could afford to ignore it as an internal Iraqi issue between the Sunnis and Shiites, despite the glaring fact that the atrocities committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an off-shoot of Al Qaeda, amounted to "war crimes," as the UN human rights head noted two days ago. But for several reasons, this is no longer the case.
India's interests in Iraq and the region should be seen in the larger context of the seven million Indians working in West Asia, of which nearly 18,000 are in Iraq. Safety and security of this population should dominate the Indian policy. The foreign exchange earned by India through this population is also a significant factor. Therefore, any unrest in the region will have an impact on India.
Two, the fallout of any crisis in West Asia on India's energy security needs to be kept in mind. The current crisis could lead to spiralling global oil prices, but in addition, safe access to energy resources also becomes an important consideration.
Three, even though the current crisis in Iraq is often seen through a Sunni-Shia prism in the local context, the issue has a wider regional consonance. The issue needs to be seen in the context of the Shia-dominated Iran and the Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and how they see the current crisis as a reflection of the larger regional dynamics.
Four, the takeover by the ISIS of several Iraqi towns reflects a lack of capacity on the part of the Iraqi government and its security forces to handle the situation. In such a scenario, it is meaningless to assume that India and Iraq have excellent relations and therefore India is not a target. It may well have been that the 40 Indians were caught in between and not necessarily targeted by the ISIS, but the reality is that there is a monster in the country, who is notorious for their extreme brutality. India should consider cooperating with other States to undertake capacity building of the Iraqi security forces in order for these forces to fight terrorists more effectively in the future.
India should also consider coordinating with other major regional or extra-regional powers in determining the next course of action. To arrest the current pace of ISIS advance, there is clearly a need for military action. There has to be a simultaneous pursuit of two approaches: military strikes in the areas captured by the ISIS, and a political approach from the Iraqi government side to bring about some sort of rapprochement between the Sunni, Shia and the Kurd population. After an initial agreement among these communities, these have to be followed by a larger political accommodation wherein the other groups are brought in as part of the mainstream. This is critical because the ISIS gains, to a large extent, have been driven by Sunni bitterness at the current Iraqi political leadership.
Five, India needs to see the ISIS advance as part of the phenomena of global terrorism. India should pursue the fight against terror in a more focused manner to effect impact on the ISIS funding and terror activities.
To tackle India's current hostage crisis, India has to obviously work with the Maliki leadership but New Delhi also has to engage other regional players in bringing out a favourable outcome.