Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
China and India are the fastest-growing major economies in the world, and together ensure a huge amount of business for the United Kingdom. However, flights by domestic (i.e. non-UK) carriers from these two locations usually are made to land and takeoff from Terminal 4 of Heathrow, which is possibly the worst. There are, of course, exceptions. Air India apparently lands in Terminal 2, while British Airways seems to have almost a monopoly over Terminal 5. December 10 was not a good day for flights coming into and out of London. The weather made it difficult to operate flights,and many were cancelled. However, the Jet Airways flight from Delhi to London has the advantage of taking off at lunchtime, so that a night’s sleep is not lost either in catching an early morning flight or onboard the aircraft.
The flight landed safely and on time at Heathrow. For most, once outside the aircraft, it may take more than two hours to finally get in front of an Immigration counter, so slow and long are the queues of visitors. Those travelling Business Class are fortunate, for they get to use the Fast Track facility, which is much quicker. It must be said that the British people, no matter their ethnicity, are usually polite and friendly, and so it was at the Immigration counter, where those in charge worked efficiently to ensure that the lines got cleared as quickly as it was possible in an era where terrorism is a constant presence. Indeed, several of the bridges of London now have metal railings on the side of the walkway, so as to prevent a terrorist from running over pedestrians the way it happened on the very bridge this columnist crossed on foot to reach an office close to where he had been earlier.
Even on the walkways, there were obstacles placed, so that a terrorist in a car or truck would not be able to go very far along the pedestrian walkway of a bridge before being stopped by two concrete obstacle placed side by side, leaving space through them only for those on foot. However, terror groups are adept at finding out new ways of fulfilling their ghastly task, and recently there have been situations in London where motorcycle riders have sought to grab wallets and other valuables from nearby pedestrians and thereafter make good their escape. Overall, however, good policing and a comprehensive intelligence network have ensured that London remains safer than Paris, just as in New York, where the New York Police Department (NYPD) lives up to their reputation for excellence. A reasonable degree of personal safety is among the reasons why so many individuals from across Asia settle down in London, acquiring houses and businesses there. These days, the greatest influx seems to be the Chinese, who are coming across in large numbers. They are followed by those from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, especially Qatar, whose citizens have bought several of the architectural landmarks of the city, as also such favourites of the tourist as Harrods.
Meeting those conversant about the situation in North Africa and West Asia, it was clear that within that region, it was Iran that was the target of suspicion, despite its having signed the nuclear deal a year ago and thereby placing all its nuclear facilities under hugely intrusive international inspections. In contrast to the rhetoric against Iran, complies about Wahabbism were few, although of course that was recognised as a danger. Many of the Arab countries have managed to keep the Wahabbis at bay, among them being Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood under Mohammad Morsi was removed from office and replaced by General Abdul Fatah al Sissi, who is much more of a moderate in theology and has taken steps to reduce the influence of Wahabbis in the country. Within the GCC, the UAE and Bahrain are far more liberal in the theologies they support than Qatar. The big change is Saudi Arabia, where Crown Prince Mohammad has publicly called for an end to the two centuries of domination of Wahabbis over several of the institutes of the country, and through these to the rest of the
world. Giving women the right to drive or sanctioning the opening of movie theatres may not seem like much progress in the rest of the world, but in Saudi Arabia, such edicts constitute a revolution.
However, goaded by the very countries that signed the nuclear deal with Iran, the Crown Prince is being prodded to take on Iran, perhaps even through a war such as was fought in the 1980s between Tehran and Baghdad. It may be remembered that during the 1939-45 global war, the UK and the US assisted the Soviet Union against Gerrnany, even though they were anti-thetical to the Communist Party. This was a sensible move in the context of the need to defeat Hitler. In much the same way, however unpleasant the Iranian regime may be to Riyadh, it would be better to avoid a confrontation with the largest Shia-majority country in the world, and focus is read on ensuring that Wahabbi influence in Saudi Arabia diminish and disappear.
Among the factors responsible for the two front battle that the Saudi Crown Prince is waging must be included the goading of the US and other NATO partners, who have been encouraging Riyadh to confront Tehran, the way they promoted the war between Iran and Iraq in the past, when Saddam Hussein was in charge of Iraq. The war immensely strengthened the religious zealots in Iran and weakened the rest of civil society, besides causing losses on an almost unbearable scale. In London, Enemy Number 1 is Russia and Enemy Number 2 Iran. Far better would have been for NATO to concentrate on the battle against Wahabbism being waged by moderate Muslims across the world,and in dealing with the problem posed by North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.