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The Iraq crisis and India’s energy security

The land of the Arab Spring has turned into a region of turmoil and violence. Terror groups following the Wahhabi brand of Islam, have established their presence from Syria to Iraq. India which depends on the region for its energy supplies and also has workers in these countries needs to look at new ways to secure its interests. Manjeet Kripalani, Executive Director and Co-founder, Gateway House talks to Professor M.D. Nalapat, Director, Department of Geopolitics, Manipal University about the spread of the Wahhabi crescent and the energy and security implications for India.

MK: The impression is that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has suddenly burst upon the scene without anybody noticing their growth. Would you agree?

MDN: That’s not the case at all. Although we use labels like ISIS to describe the various groups that have become active after the liberation of Libya, the reality is that these are fluid movements.

The ISIS is actually a collection of individuals that enter some of these so-called moderate organisations and collect money from Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other elements in the UAE. They get a lot of assistance, technical and otherwise, from France, the U.S., Britain and other western powers. Once they have the training, they switch to ISIS. From my sources in the field, I have learned that Wahhabi groups like these follow the tactic of collecting money, weapons and training from a certain organisation and then rejoining the hardline group to which they are committed to. So arms and cash being sent to armed and violent groups is finally going to land up in the hands of these Wahhabi organisations. This is an elementary lesson that the U.S. or UK is yet to learn.

MK: What is their agenda – is it an extremist mercenary agenda, or a strictly Wahhabi agenda?

MDN: The fact of the matter is that you have different layers of individuals who are a part of these extremist organisations. Some of them are psychologically alienated, and this is particularly true of people who come from western countries. They have an immense guilt complex because they have partaken of what they call forbidden pleasures. They are indoctrinated to believe that the only way to atone for their past actions is through murder. What Wahhabi groups preach is that the key to paradise lies in killing as many people as possible. A lot of youngsters have been especially influenced.

MK: Where is the Wahhabi corridor in India?

MDN: I wish it were a corridor, because it could then be identified and dealt with. Wahhabism is a virus which is present across India in various forms and we have got to ensure that the Wahhabi ideology is de-legitimised. Channels like the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera are talking about the Sunni revolt against the Iraqi government. In fact, about 40% of the ministers in the Iraqi government are Sunni. Several key officials are Sunni. So this is not a Sunni-Shia conflict, but a Wahhabi – Shia one. We have to separate the Sunni from the Wahhabi. I have studied Wahhabism and it has nothing in common with Islam. Islam is a faith that preaches mercy, compassion, tolerance and beneficence.  It is an admirable and noble faith and Wahhabism has nothing to do with it.

MK: The new government in Delhi is viewed as a more muscular government. There are a considerable number of Indians in Iraq, employed as nurses or construction workers who are stranded in Iraq. Who is the Indian government negotiating with?

MDN: Prime Minister Modi has often spoken about the need to expand foreign policy beyond the official government machinery. I hope he reaches out beyond officials – even beyond the peripheries of the Ministry of External Affairs – and approaches academics, civil society and companies. Certain organisations like the Mahindras’ and Tata Sons have managers who have worked in these locations for 15-20 years. Are they even consulted? No, they are not. Nor are academics who have been studying this phenomenon.

MK: Who are the people the Indian government should be looking to?

MDN: The government has sent a former MEA official who I am sure is very intelligent. But what knowledge does he have about the theology of the ISIS? The good news is that there are institutions in India like the Ahle Hadees that are very close to Wahhabi groups around the globe. I would say it is far better to send secretly some representatives of the Ahle Hadees there to talk to the groups there.

MK: Equally important from an Indian perspective is our energy reliance on Iraq. How do you think this is going to play out if Iraq goes up in flames? The ISIS has already captured Baiji, the largest oil refinery. What does that mean for energy security?

MDN: We have lost a significant opportunity to get a big chunk of cheap energy from Iran. When Iran was facing sanctions we should have moved in and signed sweetheart deals with them. Now we have lost out in both, Iraq and Iran, because the fact is that the foreign policy of India is being managed by individuals who strongly believe that what is good for the United States and the EU, is good for India too. We could have got very cheap deals with Iran and Iraq but we have lost that chance to China.

Dr. Madhav Nalapat holds a UNESCO Peace Chair and is also Senior Associate of the National Institute of Advanced Studies. He is a Board Member of the India-China-America Institute and an Associate of the United Services Institution of India.

Manjeet Kripalani is Executive Director, Gateway House

This interview was exclusively conducted for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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