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Mainstream, VOL LII No 28, July 5, 2014

ISIL Challenges Modi Government

Saturday 5 July 2014, by M K Bhadrakumar

The Narendra Modi Government has come face to face with its first foreign policy crisis — in Iraq. What seemed a tricky operational challenge up until today has turned critical politically with the calculated move by the extremist elements behind the mayhem in northern Iraq to forcibly take away nearly 4 dozen Indian female nurses from India who were working in Tikrit to their stronghold of Mosul. There have been casualties, too. (here).

How this is going to pan out can only be known in the fulness of time but things don’t look good at all. An impression is slowly gathering in Kerala (from these nurses have gone to Iraq) that the government may have lost valuable time in rescuing them from Tikrit.

Of course, it is all a matter of perceptions and judgment at the moment, but if these women are not rescued from Mosul, pressure of public opinion will rise. And it won’t look good at all for the Modi Government to look helpless and weak. Could’t a commando operation have been mounted in Tikrit? What else are Special Forces for?

Why did the Islamist extremists act like this locking India in an eyeball-to-eyeball? Of course, they have taken hostages from Turkey as well with a view to deter any interference by Ankara in the Iraq development. But in this case, we cannot rule out other possibilities.

Perhaps, there are hidden hands operating within the extremist groups that are bent on testing the will of the Modi Government and, possibly, embarrass it on the world stage.

Or, maybe, it is all to be explained away—the services of these Indian nurses could be needed for the field hospitals the militants could be setting up in Mosul or elsewhere in their sanctuaries in expectation of bloody battles to be fought. If so, this crisis may aggravate. Surely, the ISIL is flushed with funds and there is no need for them to hold hostages for ransom.

It has been apparent for a while that the situation in Iraq was becoming extremely fragile and, arguably, there should have been a greater sense of urgency. No one other than the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff General Martin Dempsey has expressed doubt whether the Iraqi armed forces can hold together. No doubt, it is a frightening scenario—the state withering away, the country descending into anarchy and a free-wheeling militia stepping in to fill the vacuum.

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.