4

India’s Iraq Problem

NEW DELHI – Iraq seems to be falling apart, with the rapid advance of the militant Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) threatening to lead to the country’s division into Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish entities, while blurring its border with its turbulent western neighbor. Moreover, the tumult is now threatening to spread to two more nearby countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which already are facing myriad internal challenges. For India, the message is clear: its national security interests are at risk.

After almost four decades of war, Afghanistan is, once again, teetering on the edge of a precipice. Just last week, following allegations of massive fraud during the country’s recent presidential election, thousands of protesters marched on the presidential palace. Given that the aggrieved candidate’s constituency comprises mainly ethnic Tajiks, the events have revived Afghanistan’s deep-seated ethnic tensions.

Pakistan’s internal struggles – from inter-communal conflict to relentless terrorist activity – are well known. In fact, the country recently experienced a major terrorist attack, which not only led to more than 29 deaths, but also rendered Karachi’s international airport – the country’s largest – dysfunctional for nearly 12 hours. Just a couple of weeks later, gunmen fired at a Pakistan International Airlines plane as it was landing in the northern city of Peshawar, killing one passenger and injuring three crew members.

Poorly considered American interventions, especially the invasion of Iraq in 2003, have exacerbated the region’s myriad animosities and security challenges. Far from bringing peace to Iraq, the military campaign – carried out on the pretense of eliminating weapons of mass destruction – fueled more violence. Unable to stabilize itself, Iraq – which initially demanded that the United States withdraw all of its troops – has been requesting renewed American involvement. Will Afghanistan, too, soon be asking the US to return should the Taliban stage an ISIS-like surge?