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Mainstream, VOL LV No 32 New Delhi July 29, 2017

Terrorism, Qatar Siege and Global Strategic Undercurrents

Saturday 29 July 2017

by Rudra P. Pradhan and Jajati K. Pattnaik


More than four weeks into the Qatar—GCC diplomatic crisis leading to a series of embargo on Qatar keeps the global anticipation high and speculation rising. Seven countries—Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE along with Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Maldives—severed diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday, June 5, 2017 driving the already volatile Arab world into an unprecedented crisis. Days before the Qatar crisis, President Donald Trump’s maiden visit to Riyadh was notable for three reasons. First, amidst the presence of over fifty Arab and Muslim leaders, Trump boisterously clarified that there is ‘no divide between Islam and West’. Second, he called on the regional leaders to combat the ‘crisis of Islamic extremism’. Finally, he categorically identified Iran as a promoter of sectarian conflict and terror. (The Telegraph, 2017) On June 6, next day to the embargo on Qatar, Trump tweeted that the diplomatic and economic boycott imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt was the result of his “visit with the [Saudi] King... already paying off”. (McCarthy, 2017)

Strangely however, a week later, Qatar signed a massive new arms deal of $ 12 billion with Washington for the purchase of 36 F-15 fighter jets from the US. Weeks later, Trump talked of negotiation and cooperation among the GCC countries to resolve the crisis.

The American Administration and President Trump’s prevarication and shifting stance are blamed largely on his maverick posturing. Since enough is written and reported on a daily basis on the development around the Qatar crisis, this article, at the structural level, looks at the larger Arabian terrorism narrative and big-power stake in the region followed by the perspective of British-American liberal imperialist order (Cooper, 2002), operational since 1989 but seemingly crumbling down ever since Donald Trump took over the White House. Also we highlight the implication of the crisis to India and the Indian people who constitute a sizable chunk in the region.

Understanding the Real Issue

Qatar is broadly accused of supporting and funding political Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and building proximity with Iran. In the international relations theoretical landscape, however, a far larger and perplexing dynamics is emerging and that is very difficult to miss. The criticality is not regional but far too international and of a paradigm-shift dimension, the threads of which connect to the genesis of hosting Islamic terrorism for political gains and big power rivalry and a possible revision of the international order in the near future.

Yes, we are possibly at a moment of international politico-strategic and economic order transition where Qatar and the Saudi-led GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) are seemingly playing a flashpoint location. The British-American liberal imperialists and their client states have actively empowered Right-wing jihadist groups the world over and these are now bouncing back to inflict matching insult and injury on the perpetrators of liberal imperialism. (Mizner, 2015) Noam Chomsky, Seamus Milne and the likes join to blame Western policies for their liberal imperialist urge of regime change and control.

Chomsky, 2015) also see (Milne, 2015

The imperialist agenda has hosted a series of international crises in West Asia since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and now seems to be crumbling down under its own weight; this is a noticeable fact.

British-American liberal imperialism seems to be facing the onslaught from two change-drivers. First, a whole lot of new politico-strategic forces and developments in the last two decades are questioning the efficacy of the old order. Second, a range of new economic institutions, actors, and models that were never part of the Western model of economic development are threateningly vying to reshape the world economic order. Both these set of variables, analysed below, do point to the emergence of an alternative international order.

Political Level Challenges

At the political level, the genesis of the Qatar crisis, as we see today, is linked to Vladimir Putin’s September 2015 air bombing of Syrian ISIS locations in favour of Syria’s Assad Government. Putin’s action seems to have put an end to the many years of so-called regime-change policy which initially the British and later the US launched with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, that was subsequently to be continued by the Barrack Obama Administration and NATO forces to overthrow the Col. Gaddafi regime in Libya. (Askary, 2017) Decades of American intervention in Iraq has resulted in the profound embedding of the sectarian competition in the post-Ba’athist state creating a web of actors in Syria’s conflict, including ISIS itself and the sectarian Shia militia which was mobilised to defend the Assad regime. (Alexander, 2016) During 2003-2005, the British Government had got several intelligence and authoritative analysts warning of the correlation British foreign policy and Islamic terrorism and its possible fallout on the Western world. (The Conversation, 2017)

The British-American liberal imperialist order—an intellectual incarnation gaining currency post-1989—placed itself between imperialist urge, hegemony and balance-of-power equations to pursue liberal interven-tionism of any order and magnitude against the less civilised, openly supported and used Islamist terror groups like the Al-Qaeda etc. to overthrow Gaddafi. (Najumi, 2013) Soon after, they moved these forces along with their huge catch of weapons to Syria through Turkey to fight against the Assad regime. (Askary, 2017) In this shifting of forces to Syria by the British and later the USA, Qatar played the role of an active coordinator (Askary, 2017). Quite understan-dably, Qatar couldn’t have done it on its own. It was well coordinated by the British-American intelligence under the approval of the Obama Administration.

Russian intervention to neutralise the ISIS strongholds in Syria not only halted the ISIS ability but fundamentally sabotaged the British-American regime-change equations and qualitatively changed the structural power alignment in the region. (Rogers & Reeve, 2015)

Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House was no good news for the well-tested British-American liberal imperialist champions. Deviating from the traditional American policy, Donald Trump announced to wipe out terrorism and build good relations with every government by discontinuation from the policy of regime-change and control. Donald Trump further declared to build good relations with Russia that amounted to British isolation and possible newer alignments in the horizon. Conventional coalitions and alignments may no more be viable.

This is where Trump and the British-American lobby find themselves at cross-roads. Trump is a threat to the US-British imperialist paradigm which is the main reason for the series of anti-Trump movements led by the British and a number of Western imperialists.

Terrorism and Liberal Imperial Design

Washington and Western democracies tradi-tionally speak of zero tolerance to terrorism for pure media and market consumption. The fact, on the other hand, is: most of these so-called Islamist terror forces are British-American creation to expand their designated strategic interests.

Milne, 2015) also see (Curtis, 2015

Islamic terror networks in reality represent very little Islam. Rather, they are forces of the empire and fighting the interests of the imperialists. (Simha, 2016) These forces, in the larger realm, fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union and in Chechnya against the Russians, in Egypt against Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and in Syria againstBasher al-Assadand so on. (Askary, 2017) It is interesting to examine the shifting operational support and collaboration of Hamas, Hezbollah and Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Hamas and Hezbollah obviously are supported by Iran.

In the case of Syria, it is the Syrian Govern-ment forces, Russians, Iran and Hezbollah, partly working with Washington, fighting to eliminate ISIS and the al-Nusra Front in the northern city of Aleppo. (Osborne, 2016) Hamas’ younger generation leaders, like Mohammed Deif and Yahya Sinwar, are strongly pro-Assad in Syria and supported by Iran. (Moubayed, 2017) The United States Air Force and special force, supporting the Kurds in the north-east of the country, are attacking Raqqa now. While many of these groups operate strongly in their area of control, there is periodic undeclared support from contrary interest groups converging against the common enemy.

In the case of Iraq, the Iraqi national army, the so-called Shia Militia (not Shias alone but Sunni Muslims, Kurds, tribals etc.) and the Iranians are jointly fighting to eliminate ISIL from Mosul. But these forces, including Iran, are being augmented by the American fire power too.

The Saudis, on the other hand, call the Muslim Brotherhood terrorists. But the contradiction is that they are operating as the Saudi ally in Yemen and Syria. (Matthiesen, 2015) It is pertinent to mention here that Muslim Brotherhood itself has traditionally been a British-American intelligence agency creation for many decades fighting communism and later Russia and many other regimes. (Varulkar & H., 2017)

Saudi Arabia faces multiple predicaments today. Many analysts feel the Qatar crisis is a test case for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s succession to the throne and more for regional power consolidation. Far away from the House of Saud and regional politics, Riyadh, meanwhile, is entangled in embarrassing JASTA (Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act) (Congress, 2016) threatening to expose the Saudi terror complicity in the 9/11 attack. In spite of Saudi Arabian opposition and President Obama’s veto, JASTA has become a law and the American justice system sooner or later may catch up with Saudi Arabia and try them for culpability—a big expose on Saudi terror involvement. (Brown, 2016)

The big question therefore is: who is a terror sponsor indeed! The British, the American, Qatar, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the list goes on in the terror narrative’s Orwellian doublespeak. In the larger international engagement landscape, Russian’s forceful and game-changing entry into this complex terrorism issue as well as Trump declaring to work with Russians and develop good relations with every country, squarely purport to dismantle the traditional British-American imperialist architecture is seen as a serious paradigm-shift in the international order.

Economic Level Challenges

China’s political and economic rise, decline of the American economy and the economic crumble of Europe and BREXIT (British Exist) are no mean developments of the 21st century. In these volatile times, newer and game-changing developments like China’s OBOR (One Belt and One Road), China’s AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), the possible China-Russia axis, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and BRICS Bank are very viable alternative narratives to blow down the so-far successful British-American imperialist order perpetuated for decades.

New powers have indeed arrived. While China is appearing to punch a very dominant and competitive role, India’s large market, economic growth story, rising international role and Indo-US strategic partnership and the possibility of playing a counter-weight to the Chinese ambition are themes of significance in the emerging world order.

While the Trump Administration’s willingness to collaborate with Russia and work with China, including China’s OBOR international infrastructure movement, are a whole lot of new developments, these direct towards realignment of the international order in the economic realm too. Trump could perhaps be the last American President to supervise the demise of the old order leaving the traditional allies like Britain stranded in the emerging realities.

America’s Defence Architecture and GCC 

While the short-range direction of the GCC crisis hinges largely on the Trump Administration’s approval or disapproval, Washington can barely afford to ignore their long-term strategic interests in the entire region. In Qatar they house the US Central Command—which runs American and coalition military operations in the region at al Udeid housing more than 11,000 American military personnel. American bombers, tankers, and surveillance aircraft fly combat missions over Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and seventeen other nations from the base. (Sgt. Joshua Strang, 2011) In UAE, on the other hand, America’s al-Dhafra air base houses US Air Force’s F-22 stealth fighters and F-15E strike aircraft and fly combat missions. (Sgt. Joshua Strang, 2011) The US Navy maintains a major naval installation in Bahrain too (NRCC Bahrain) while thousands of Washington’s ground Army is deployed in Kuwait. Saudi Arabia is an age-old ally and hosts five American Air Bases. (Huffington Post, 2015)

Additionally, apart from hosting vital American strategic interests, the GCC countries are a big cash bag for the American military-industrial complex. Saudi Arabia has been a big buyer and the Obama Administration alone has sold more than US $ 100 billion defence deals to Saudi Arabia. Qatar’s recent big defence purchases from US include the November 2016 purchase of $ 21.1 billion sale of F-15 fighters (Joe, 2017) and last week’s $ 12 billion (Browne, 2017) defence deal and recent purchases of Apache attack helicopters, rocket artillery systems, and Patriot missiles from the United States. (Katzman, 2017) All in all, Qatar has spent over $ 30 billion on American weapons since former President Barack Obama first took office in 2009. (CAP Middle East Team, 2016)

Washington therefore ought to have a holistic regional approach than look at the GCC countries individually as major buyers of US defence equipments. Given the catch-twenty-two situation for the Americans, it is unlikely that President Trump can side with either the Saudi or Qatar—the crisis therefore is doomed to be negotiated. However, in the regional political space and at the larger international landscape, Saudi Arabia may have to look for more reliable anchors than it has today.

Implication to Indian Diaspora 

The GCC countries have been a land of Eldorado for the job-aspirant foreign expats for over fifty years now. As the table indicates, around 25 million expats, constituting around 49 per cent of the region’s population, reside for work purposes there and the Indian origin people constitute over seven million strong. While the expats hugely outnumber locals in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and UAE, their combined remittance is around US $ 100 billion which is nearly double India’s annual defence budget outlay.

The six South Asian nations of India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, as per the World Bank’s 2014 remittances record, received around US $ 102 billion from GCC transfers representing nearly 6.2 per cent of the combined GCC’s GDP at US $ 1.6 trillion. (John, 2015) Over seven million Indian remittances back home is around US $ 35.9 billion which by all means is a strong stake if the GCC region is driven to uncertainty. (Deccan Chronicle, 2017)

Link West: India’s Trade & Energy Interests

India runs more than US $ 100 million trade deficit with GCC countries. However, India also represents around US $ 100 billion bilateral trade with the GCC. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visits to Saudi Arabia and the UAE and his new foreign policy catchphrase “Link West” seems to be expanding India’s international engagement in a more interactive manner. Apart from the ‘Link West’ approach, the Modi Government’s new EXIM policy (April 2015) not only continues to protect India’s range of interests, both regions are now experiencing a sense of partnership linkage than the earlier buyer-seller relationship—a positive phase in India’s foreign policy framework. (Calabrese, 2017)

In the event of the Qatar crisis deepening, 15.89 per cent of India’s exports and 14.64 per cent of Indian imports, that is, around 30 per cent of India’s international trade are going to be at stake. Additionally, close to 60 per cent of India’s oil imports and over 80 per cent of natural gas are linked to the region’s stability. (Pethiyagoda, February 2017) Out of 189.44 million tonnes of total oil need, India imported 109.88 million tonnes of crude oil from the Middle East in 2014-15. (PTI, 2016) The crisis leading to oil price escalation or supply disruption may roughly affect about 190 million tonnes of oil imports ranging into around US $ 145 billion. (Airy, 2014)

Hundreds of Indian companies and contracts, running into billions of dollars, are also part of the GCC countries’ economic boom story. In the event the crisis escalates, which we feel is unlikely, Indian economic as well as human interests are bound to feel the jolt.


Two prominent themes emerge from the Qatar crisis. One and fundamentally most important at this juncture of time is the rise and damaging impact of global terrorism. States and regimes have been party to their creation and patronage in various ways and the Frankenstein is beginning to engulf everybody. It may be noted that West Asian countries as well as some of the conflict-ridden poorer countries of the world commit more than one-fourth of their national budget on defence—a priority very well misplaced. It is therefore time for a clear global level anti-terror dialogue and action plan so that the innocent victims of terror are spared from misery and governments reduce their conflict cost to well spend their precious budget on development.

Second, Donald Trump’s ‘guess-me-if-you-can’ image and maverick posturing has left many traditional and operational international para-digms into speculation. The visible economic decline of the West, the rise of China and possible newer alignments and counter alignments are today’s global reality and shall manifest more and more in West Asia and the Middle East, in South Asia et al. leading to global structural changes of high consequence. Notwithstanding violent overture, multipolarity, newer power accommodation and greater connectivity are newer modes of the emerging world order.

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Dr Rudra P. Pradhan is an Associate Professor of International Relations and Political Economy at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, BITS Pilani (K.K. Birla Goa Campus). Dr Jajati K. Pattnaik is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Jomin Tayeng Government Model Degree College, Roing, Arunachal Pradesh and formerly Visiting Scholar at the Gulf Studies Programme, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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