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Will the ISIS tentacles reach upto India?

June 25, 2014

Updated 06th July 2014


Updated: 02nd July 2014:

Blogged this post originally after listening to Arnab’s ranting on ISIS threat to India in ‘Times Now.’ Updating with this link:

Front page news in ‘The Hindu’ :

Really is this my newspaper or my adversary’s? Still, India reserves her right to self-defence.  You only have to learn of the latest ownership of ‘The Hindu’ group (is it any longer) to know who controls who.



Iran and Iraq and the Arab nations from middle-east have always been traditional allies of India for we are a neutral unbiased nation.

The reigning sultan of Oman, they say, was educated and raised in India.

Recall the days when some classmates from Besant Nagar beach area in Chennai would share with us school girls, flirting stories with Iranian guys enrolled in local colleges. There was even an Iranian restaurant I guess. Wonder what happened to that.

IRCON (Indian Railway Construction Co) built the Iraqi railways.

Oman and India share a very special relationship.

In Qatar I believe, Indian Rupee was the trading currency decades before.  The first time I heard about Qatar was in the year 1990.  A friend’s sister’s family moved here to Doha – the husband worked for Bank of Baroda, a nationalized Indian bank which was one of foremost banking institutions to open offices in Qatar. At that time Qatar was little known to the world.

We Indians have work experience from around the globe.  With middle-east our experience has always been warm and good. Arabs never disturb us and give us our space. We are though not that chummy with Saudi for obvious reasons. Nevertheless lakhs of Indians are working even today in Saudi Arabia.

So religion has never been a bone of contention between us Hindus/Indians and Arabs.  We have co-existed for eons as we were also trading partners for centuries before oil boom came to middle-east. Syrian Christians of Kerala are classic example. They are of Syrian stock who migrated to India just like Parsis from Iran fearing persecution by majority muslims. In India, they spread their roots and have mingled with Indian population so much that there is really very little Syrian identity left in them any more. So much so that Hindus in Kerala are a minority today.

Parsis (Iranians)/Zoroastrians who migrated to India have contributed substantially to our economy and nation-building in general. The Godrej group of companies for instance is parsi-owned. Their role in improvizing Indian industry needs no elucidation. Another unforgettable Parsi model from Bombay – Persis Khambatta of Star Trek fame from our school times, who is no more. She went on to act in Hollywood and put India in the world fashion map for the first time.

Until 1970s, the Arab nations had a soft spot for Pakistan, for the only reason they were as islamic republic.  By the ’80s, we Indians proved our mettle and outpaced the Pakistanis in every sphere. While our neighbours are fallen from grace, Indian prestige has increased by leaps and bounds in the intervening period.

Even though we are majority Hindus (with some of us being christians and muslims), we have carved a niche for ourselves in the Arab world. You see less Indian doctors in the gulf today and more of Egyptians and Pakistanis only because India pays doctors better these days.  Some of us are still working in the middle east not because we cannot find equally well paid jobs in India, but because we have fixed our gaze on some ambitious projects and assignments – for international exposure.

Middle-level Indian workers also repatriate excellent foreign exchange returns to the country which must not be discounted. Workers from Kerala come under this category. Indian labour is way too expensive than other South Asian labour. Mostly Indians are a qualified, technical work force.  We are bankers and CEOs and engineers and doctors and teachers and nurses. We command respect everywhere we go. Arabs treat us well and are generous with us, thank you guys. For us Indians and Arabs, it is a win-win on both sides. Both of us are in association for mutual benefits. We Indians are the best literate qualified cheap and TROUBLE FREE workforce/human resources the Arabs can ever think of. We are also culturally compatible which is a deal-clincher. We Indians are sensitive to local sentiments.

Doha is just 4 hours by flight for me. If I take the direct one QA, it is only 3.5 hours. So we feel very much at home here in middle-east.

One of our Malaysian friends worked in Iraq in 1980s.  He says Basra was a heaven in those days. The quality of life was at its best superseding that in many developed western cities.

We Indians have only good things to say about even Libya. So far as ex-pat Indian community is concerned, we command respect from all Arab communities and Libya is no exception.

While Libyan/Syrian/Egyptian politics and Arab Spring seem to have nothing to do with India and Indians, of late there is a new worrying dimension emerging to this story: THE ISIS.  

Almost all you come across today in Qatar/Middle-East blame the US for the current situation in Iraq and general trouble in middle-east. ISIS is hot topic among ex-pat communities pushing World Cup Football to a second position. We are sitting right here in hotseat. We have reasons to get anxious.

But here I am asking native Arabs some direct questions that merit honest soul-searching.

1. Why did Saddam Hussein dig horizontal drilling from Kuwait’s oil wells. Did this greed not start over everything. Think back to early 1990s. Is not Kuwait a sovereign nation. If bigger nations have a right to infringe upon the territorial integrity of smaller nations, then by the same book the USA have a right to fly into your airspace, don’t they.  If Kuwait is not safe, then how can you think you are safe? (By this logic, should India not swallow Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan then?! No Pakistan and Bangladesh, thanks :-)). We all have our individuality, and even within India we are used to this variety from some 30 states. The whole of middle-east resembles to me something like the great Indian subcontinent which is a refreshing representation of unity in diversity.

2. Smaller nations always give me the jitters. I am from India, the 7th largest country in the world. Malaysia also that way gave me an insecure feeling. Malaysia faced no territorial threats still we always wondered about their defence and security aspects. Singapore fared poorer buying the basics like water from Malaysia. A day could dawn when Malaysia might turn the tap off for Singapore. It was an issue when we visited the island nation in 1999. Now the same has acquired mammoth proportions in last 15 or so years. Malaysian water woes compound to the problem. Future is a big question mark. Over a dozen alumni friends of my hubby who took PR in Singapore surrendered their status and returned to India for this reason: becoming a citizen of very small insecure nation even if it is Singapore does not appeal to most of us. We think long term – like about future generations. We get nervous about even switching flights in the tiny and trouble-torn nation called Bahrain, an island lying closer to Qatar. Qatar too is small. More than for our safety, we think about Qatari safety. We foreigners are here only to work, we will return home someday. But what about the locals. They do need some protection especially being surrounded by hostile neighbours like Saudi Arabia for instance. Singapore and Malaysia lie in the safe zone and they are saner nations. They use diplomatic channels to resolve issues. They acknowledge mutual destruction is unavoidable with direct confrontations. The middle-east nations whereas, lack this self-control. What about Bahrain and Qatar? Qatar is the envy of the entire Arab world including the UAE. Smaller nations also have this element of instability about them. This makes them most vulnerable to aggressive, hostile foreign forces.

3. Will ISIS come upto here, Doha? A million dollar question. But it is best always to conjure up the worst possible scenario and stay prepared. I am certain something is being done by way of bolstering up security by Qatari government. May be too early to press the panic button…

4. So will ISIS come upto India. Assuming ISIS swallows entire gulf and reaches up to India: we have enough mad mullahs in India waiting in all probability with open arms to receive them and make Hindustan another Pakistan. But thank God we also have a Hindu nationalist BJP at the centre with a quick-thinking PM in Shri Narendra Modi. Modi will not think twice before exercising the nuke option if it comes to that. India will not press the nuclear button against Pakistan hopefully as we have both signed ‘no first-use’ clause but if it comes to facing the dreaded ambitious future expansion plans of ISIS reaching upto India, guys note that India will be your nemesis. We are not Iraq, we are not Syria and we are not even Pakistan. Come to us and lets see.The prohibitive legal clause about atomic weapons and WMD can be repealed in no-time in national interest. Which is why we need a strong and stable government at the centre. India will not be intimidated.

5. Indian government has to think free on this issue without taking into account the US interests. India will be doing the world a big favour if our government could bomb out ISIS – if pushed to that verge. Remotest possibility – but I am thinking of the extreme case. After the way US is backing out of middle-east hesitating to interfere in Egypt and even in Iraq after occupying Iraq for over a decade, it will be in Indian interests to take care of ourselves without having to depend on foreign support.  We have never had any such in the past, hopefully we don’t need that in future.

6. Staying prepared to combat the eventuality of ISIS reaching India must be our topmost agenda. It will be sheer hardwork, nevertheless must be done on war-footing basis (no pun intended). Should India make a pre-emptive strike. Or should India join any combined forces is the key point. Too early to speculate but India has to act independent, not looking for the US nod in this matter of national security.

7. India will be in dire straits if this ISIS is to join hands with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Elected civil government in Pakistan cannot be counted upon. India would have to take some bold decisions. This kind of scenario could spell the death knell for Pakistan. Pakistan government will be the most unlikeliest partner to fight jointly a cause like this (ISIS) (with India), but the area is worth exploring without compromising our national security and interests. This will benefit both nations.

8. The safety and security and the very existence of smaller of Arab nations like Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait could be at stake.  Already the ISIS are pushing boundaries. This is no fault of these smaller nations – all ‘safe’ islamic heavens and not rogue like some other. These could become next targets only because they are smaller by territory and have weaker governments/rulers but are extremely oil and gas rich. We are thinking about safety of India sitting 6,000 miles away. The energy question for most of the world needs due consideration. World will face its first serious global crisis after the second world war. Economics is as much a ticking time-bomb as military invasion.

Displacement of (foreign) labourers gainfully employed in the middle-east, many millions of them is another major crisis respective nations including India will have to deal with.

9. Vested Indian interests in Iraq must be addressed first alongside Indian workers’ issue. Our government as well as private corporations have sunk in millions and millions of dollars in Iraqi oil wells to cater to our current and future energy needs in the light of projected increase in our demands in next few important decades. What will happen to us now. India has ‘food for oil’ kind of trading particularly with Iran and Iraq. And the other great benefit is trading in Indian Rupees than in dollars. We stand to lose maximum if anything happens to Iran and Iraq.

10. India must in her capacity help out small Arab nations – in case they seek our help.  Our traditional ties to the Arab world is also our trump card against hostile nations like Pakistan for instance. We must strengthen this bond with all our might and lend those peace-loving Arabs our moral support. That will be not only in the interests of India, but will be in the interests of the entire Arab world and this universe. Hardly any Indian dignitary visits the middle-east as we see. Whereas Pakistanis are regular here. Ex PM Manmohan Singh made a half-hearted visit to Qatar during his regime. Taking into consideration the substantial Indian presence in the gulf and our business interests, our government must do more for improving ties with Arab nations. Whereas Indian ex-pats, valuable foreign exchange earners to our exchequer, receive step-child treatment from our government.

11. Smaller nations like Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar must also diversify their commercial and defence interests and must not keep all eggs in one basket called the America. See how US is shy of holding back the ISIS. Self-interests always come first. These 3 oil rich Arab nations must expand their horizons of thinking and include China and India and even Russia in this sphere along with Europe who are equally bankable allies. For instance, smaller Arab nations can sign defence pacts with these emerging economies to give them a ‘fall back’ option. In a moment of crisis, who knows who will prove to be their true friends and who are the ones who suck you out fast and make a exit quick.

12. Once upon a time in Iraq, all road contracts etc went to Germany. US was kept out of their industry and trade scene mostly. Indian contractors minted money. We Indians have always enjoyed such a good and trusted relationship with Arabs and Iraqis and Iranians. Even Egypt’s Morsi made India one of his first (few) stops when he was sworn to power. This is the respect India commands in the middle-east. So would Iraqis turn against India and think of Hindu persecution?

13. Dear Arabs, what fun is there in you and me being the same. World is beautiful only because we are all black and white and brown and yellow in colour – variety is after all the spice of life. While I respect your choices, please respect mine too: Disapproval is the first step to dissension. By which I mean, you need not have to embrace our lifestyle or ideals, just respect ours. A bikini need not have to mean vulgarity – for some it represents freedom of expression, a sense of liberation. Our schools of thought  – yours and others – are different, that’s it, and why should we all ever think the same.. 10 years back bikini was a rare sight even in Chennai, now we have ladies boldly swimming out in unisex pools in my city in broad daylight. Even beauty parlours have turned unisex. The world is changing. You need not have to change, just grow up and accept others for what they are. Instead of criticizing bikini, learn to ignore. Modesty and honour are first and foremost mind issues. If you think they are physical quantum, then I have nothing more to say.

14. What moderate muslims can do: make their children read others’ scriptures side by side for instance. Learn others’ point of view, others’ philosophies. Expose them to other cultures. Arab friends, is your culture, your faith so weak that if your children learn of Hindu or Buddhist or Christian preachings you fear they will convert? I am a vegetarian Hindu by birth who lights candle at church and I have ‘Zam Zam’ the holy water from Mecca right in my pooja. Yes! What a beautiful confluence. Muslim Zam Zam sitting next to Hindu Ganga Jal in my Pooja – both anointed with chandan (sandal paste) and kumkum (vermillion), adorned with freshest flowers and begging for an ‘Aarthi!’?! See this is my kind of spirituality. This is how we practise religion in India. Would that ever make me any less Hindu. The zam zam was gifted to us by an Arab friend long back. We took it carefully back to India and placed it in our pooja with highest respects. I hope this is not ‘haraam’ in your culture. I repeat, this universe is vast enough to accommodate Ram and Shiva and Buddha and Christ and Allah all at the same time and comfortably so. 

15. Everyday we are getting updates on ISIS here. Even the Indian media is abuzz with various conspiracy theories about the nefarious ‘Mughalistan’ designs of ISIS on India. Hindu in this 21st century means, we have resisted and emerged winners through and through, so we won’t succumb now. I would hate my future generations to be raised as anything other than Hindu. ‘Live and Let Live’ is the mantra. But we are delighted to work and live in foreign countries – we Hindus grow with Islam and Christianity around us. These ideals have only enriched our lives, not damaged us in anyway. From Arabs we learn how to be generous and magnanimous. From christians we learn to serve humanity. Dear Arabs, how many women among yours will have the heart to serve as field nurses. How many of you are keen to render physical service to humanity. In the name of Allah. 

Not just Kailash, even Vatican and Mecca are in our radar, God willing. One day we would like to go there. Btw, have you read the book or watched the film ‘Life of Pi?’ That’s male Indian me.

In Chennai especially in the month of December, at exact 5 am comes this spiritual awakening in me always: with the Hindu temple bells ringing (as it is Margazhi time for us), with the muezzin calling for prayers from the nearby mosque… with a group from local church singing carols under my balcony calling me out… this 5 to 5.30 am which is termed ‘Brahma Muhurat’ in Hindu calendar which means the time the Gods wake up for a walk, is so auspicous, special. Imagine Shiva, Allah and Christ at the same time! I do! And they do come together in my place in December morning chill. Most of us who are up at this time reckon this beautiful truth. In the quiet and calm of December mornings leading upto Christmas and New Year, with a warm cuppa pressed to my cheeks, I appreciate everyday what India makes possible for me: to feel a true sense of liberation and spirituality the way no other Asian can.


From → Dilli Durbar

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