Saturday 5 July 2014

ISIS ‘caliphate’ a threat to GCC (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat
Friday, July 04, 2014 - With its declaration that Muslims across the world owe allegiance to it rather than to any other government, and with the announcement of an “Islamic Caliphate” controlled by itself, ISIS has thrown a challenge not principally to the countries joined together as NATO, but to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) itself. The message from “Caliph” Abubakr al Baghdadi is that he and his organisation form the only lawfully constituted authority for the Ummah, and that therefore any command made by them should supercede those made by the present governments within the GCC as well as outside. Although the number of those willing to accept such a diktat may be small in almost all states in the region, yet they can form a potent core of fanatics working openly or silently to destabilize existing governments.

It needs to be remembered that mindspace is even more critical than physical space in the calculations of ISIS. What they wish to do is to make millions across the world believe that it is only their extreme vision which represents the “true” faith. Knowing the immense religiosity of believers in the Word of God across the globe, ISIS is conveying the message that they alone have what the Chinese term “the mandate of heaven”. And that ISIS and its authorised affiliates alone have divine blessing for their parody of a government, and therefore that all existing governments are illegitimate. Although the declaration of a “Caliphate” under “Caliph” al Baghdadi has been downplayed in much of the world, in reality this could pose a grave challenge to peace and security, especially in West Asia. It needs to be remembered that the bulk of the population in the GCC countries is very young, and that the spreading influence of Wahabbism has ensured that the education received by them is such as to render them susceptible to theological arguments.

Since the 1980s and the war against the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan, Wahabbi teachings have spread, boosted by the huge financial outlays made on its propagation by Saudis, Qataris and others from within the GCC. One of the results of the mainstreaming of Wahabbi influences across several countries has been a continuing metamorphosis of the education system, specially the curricula. In many places, these no longer reflect the moderate ideals that ought to underpin thought in a democracy, but focus on and legitimise exclusion and hate for “the other”. Over the three decades and more since Wahabbism was given a boost thanks to the 1979 takeover of Iran by Ayatollah Khomenei and the 1980s war against the USSR in Afghanistan, several million minds have become receptive to the fringe teachings espoused by ISIS and others with a similar theology and mindset. It is those with such a mindset – individuals located across continents - that ISIS seeks sway over, by proclaiming itself as the only legitimate authority for the Muslim Ummah. The claim may sound laughable at present, but it carries within itself the potential for wreaking chaos across the GCC, hitherto a haven of stability relative to countries such as Iraq, Syria and Egypt. Although the citizenry in the countries forming the GCC are small in size relative to South Asian states, relative calm has remained only because of the generous social security schemes of their governments combined with strict policing and the absence of large supplies of weaponry in the hands of the public.

Because of the fact that several thousand citizens from the US and the EU are either actively fighting established governments in theatres across the region or are in the process of doing so, ISIS and like organisations are considered a threat to the US and the EU, which they certainly are. However, in their case the threat is not existential, the way it is in the case of the GCC states. Should the ISIS cancer be permitted to metastize across the region, it will not be long before small groups of armed extremists begin to menace life in GCC states. A torrent of weaponry has flooded the region as a consequence of the NATO-GCC operation to topple inconvenient regimes. This had made it feasible for those falling prey to the psychological operations of ISIS and its counterparts to begin planning for armed and violent protests designed to paralyse life in selected locations, thereby putting pressure on governments to hit back and thereby anger and isolate local populations.

Two faultlines have become magnified in their effects since the occupation of Iraq by the US and its coalition partners in 2003.The first is the effect on oil prices as a consequence of the discovery of shale oil reserves in North America and elsewhere. Although speculators supported by a few governments have thus far managed to keep oil prices at an elevated level, these highs can be expected to taper off within the coming five years, with both alternative energy technology and more efficient use of hydrocarbons combining with shale oil production to lower prices to levels a third of what they are in mid-2014. This will have an immediate effect on the ability of certain GCC states to ensure the loyalty of their citizens through massive cash handouts. The other faultline is the chasm created between Shia and Sunni because of NATO joining hands with a few GCC countries to launch operations against Shia rulers. Indeed, such fealty to Sunni (or, to be more accurate, Wahabbi) interests is what has thus far stopped the US from deploying its airpower to eliminate the ISIS pockets while they are still in formation and not dispersed.

NATO’s war on the Shia has created tension within society in the Middle East that has the potential for nurturing a new shoal of militant organisations to complement the Wahabbi ones, this time composed of Shia. In1944,it was the failure of the German Wehrmacht (army) to stop the Allied armies on the beaches which allowed the latter to spread across the land, ultimately liberating those parts of Germany not under the control of Soviet armed forces. Today,ISIS is “at the beach” and vulnerable. Should its phalanxes not get attacked and eliminated now, its chances of succeeding in winning over adherents across the globe - but principally within the GCC - will sharply rise. For the GCC states which armed, trained and funded the fighters now mobilised under the flag of ISIS, time is running out.

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