Consider the West Asian crisis. It has led some media commentators to speculate on whether it heralds World War Three. That is difficult to believe. The difficulty flows from a simple rule-of-thumb assumption: politicians are driven above all else by the survival instinct. President George Bush is no exception. He wants to survive so that he might leave a positive, indelible mark on history. He will have approached the half-way mark of his second term by year's end. The November elections to US Congress will determine his fate. If the Democrats capture Congress from the Republicans, Mr. Bush's future becomes uncertain. He could then end up as a lame duck president ' at best censured, at worst impeached. Therefore Mr. Bush will presumably try everything to win the election.
Presumably, he will attempt for victory to reverse drastically the policies of his first term without seeming to do so. That process has in fact begun. A huge change, largely unnoticed, has already occurred. The US quest for unipolar global dominance has given way to acceptance of a multipolar world in which America's aims are realized in concert with the aims of other big powers. The Bush administration is attempting to achieve this with dexterity.
There are three areas in which success could dramatically improve the flagging fortunes of President Bush: triumphant withdrawal of troops from Iraq; a solution to the Palestinian problem; and decimation of Al Qaeda. To influence American voters, US troops must be withdrawn substantially from Iraq. But that cannot be done if it is seen as a defeated retreat. Therefore, a democratic Iraq has to be stabilized. This cannot be done without consent of major West Asian powers. The West Asian powers cannot be brought on board without resolution of the Palestinian issue. In short, for the US to withdraw from Iraq with some semblance of dignity would necessitate an overall West Asian peace, endorsed by the major regional powers. That's a very, very tall order. But if a sufficient breakthrough were achieved by November, showing substantial light at the end of the tunnel, Mr. Bush's mission would have been accomplished.
Consider the steps that the Bush administration has already taken to achieve this aim. To stabilize a Shia dominated Iraq the US held for considerable time a silent dialogue with Iran. That dialogue continued behind the smokescreen of a dispute over Iran's nuclear activities. Now the dialogue is open and the two issues are interlinked. As things are, the US has succeeded in obtaining the cooperation of Russia and China in containing Iranian nuclear ambitions. Russia did not have serious differences with the US. To bring China on board Saudi Arabia was persuaded to offer energy to China. This made Iran that much more expendable as Beijing's crucial energy supplier. President Hu Jintao is busy rectifying imbalances that have crept into China's domestic situation. That makes continuous economic growth crucial. And that, in turn, makes access to energy vital. If this surmise is correct, China will continue to remain a bystander in the current Lebanon crisis ' unless war escalates to the point of blocking the Straits of Hormuz to prevent shipments. Along with Russia and Europe, China has helped avert a flashpoint in the US-Iran nuclear dispute.
The US seems to have intervened in the Shia-Sunni politics of West Asia also because, without accord between both communities, Iraq cannot be stabilized. Saudi Arabia is the most influential Sunni nation. Iran is the most powerful Shia nation. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia exchanged messages of friendship with Ayatollah Khameini and President Ahmadinejad of Iran. The Ayatollah confirmed that both nations would resolve all differences to maintain peace between Shias and Sunnis. But for lasting peace the militant organizations in both communities would have to be disarmed. That is what the Lebanon war seems to be all about.
Hezbollah, the Shia sword arm, operates from Lebanon without the government being able to intervene. Shia dominated Syria exercises maximum influence on Lebanon. The main source of weaponry and missiles for the Hezbollah is Iran. At the moment of writing there are peace formulae being considered to defuse both the Iranian nuclear dispute and the Israeli-Hezbollah clash. Israel obtained from the US an extra week to pound the Hezbollah armory. It wants to destroy all long range missiles of Hezbollah which can reach targets within Israel. Up till now, apart from protesting noises, neither Iran nor Syria has intervened to stop or escalate the war. And, unprecedentedly, Arab nations have actually criticized Hezbollah instead of exclusively blaming Israel. This strengthens the suggestion of a secret agreement between the US, Sunni and Shia nations to neutralize Shia and Sunni militant groups.
It is also likely that Arab and Iranian concerns about Israel's aggression have been addressed in the peace formula. Israel for the first time had an observer status in a NATO meeting. If it becomes, eventually, part of NATO, Israeli adventurism would be contained by Europe which West Asian nations trust more than the US. Significantly, President Ahmadinejad urged the West to await an Iranian response to Europe's nuclear proposals till August 22nd. Observers have suggested that this delay has been sought to get through an Iranian festival. That does not seem particularly convincing. Could it be that Iran, while it allows the Hezbollah to be neutralized by Israeli bombardment, is waiting for a quid pro quo which is part of the secret understanding? In other words, is it waiting for the destruction of the Sunni sword arm, Al Qaeda?
The clash in West Asia has pushed into background the escalation of hostilities in South Asia ' in, primarily, southern Afghanistan which is the heart of Taliban territory. Thousands of US led troops are battling the Taliban hideouts in the remote reaches of southern and eastern Afghanistan. According to Afghanistan Defence Minister General Rahim Abdul Rahim Wardak, the Taliban's command and control structure is collapsing and its commanders are fleeing into Pakistan. General Wardak told the media: 'I think in the next two or three months there will be some major changes.' He predicted that by November the Taliban would lose all steam.
The next three months therefore could show a dramatic increase in violence. The West Asian crisis could subside. South Asian violence could escalate. It is in this overall context that India and Pakistan must formulate policies to deal with the unfolding crisis. The terrorism in Kashmir and Mumbai might well be drawn into a bigger crisis that engulfs India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. And this could happen while India has no government worth the name.