Unravelling jihad factor: India’s hypothetical role as Cold War ally of US

| Updated: 03 June, 2023 6:50 pm IST

In the realm of geopolitical speculation, envisioning alternative scenarios, I delved into the intriguing hypothetical situation: What would have happened if India had responded favourably to the American calls to join the Western Bloc during the Cold War?

While the first part deals mostly with India’s equations with Pakistan and China, its prickly neighbours, the second part continues to explore the geopolitical landscape of the Eurasian landmass and assesses the possible consequences of such an alliance.

The jihad factor
Given that the origins of 20th-century radical Islamism remained in faraway Iran and Saudi Arabia, they would be constant in our speculation.

So, after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and the Mecca Masjid attacks, Asia would see a proliferation of radical Islam, sectarianism, the Shia-Sunni tussle, and the fallouts of it.

While that remains the time the Soviet Union walked into Afghanistan, and the USA prodded Saudi Arabia to cascade Wahhabi proliferation within the Sunni world, the 1980s would be the time that would see significant Wahhabization of the Indian subcontinent (we have to remember that India and not Pakistan is the US ally in this essay).

So, America would put its full weight behind the different Islamic institutions of India to create an Islamic fundamentalist bulwark against the Soviet onslaught. New Delhi (or Kashmir) would – in a change of role – gear up the same way Rawalpindi/Peshawar did during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan: housing, recruiting, indoctrinating, and arming jihadis and sending them to Afghanistan to fight the communists. Pakistani links would probably be established, to supply human resources for Afghanistan.

The fallout from it would not be radically different from Pakistan’s. The two countries exhibit the same set of cultural behaviours. An immense inflow of Petrodollars would, other than making the different non-state institutions extremely rich, result in large-scale Salafi-Wahhabi ossification of the subcontinent Muslims; something that happened a couple of decades later (the 90s, with the J&K insurgency) and on a much smaller scale in real life.

And by the time the Soviet Union walked out of Afghanistan, India would probably be a large-scale Pakistan, with a) an immensely powerful army; b) a government that’s essentially a US client; c) a few million battle-hardened Islamic jihadis; d) millions of dollars stashed away in non-state funds and dedicated to promoting radical Islam; and e) a sudden loss of US interest in the region towards the end of the Cold War.

The domestic factor and the silent majority
There is a section of political analysts that think that with India openly aligning with the USA, the eastern part of the country – communist Bengal and the Maoist tribal belt – would openly revolt against the government. There is a grain of truth there. With serious left-wing affiliations, parts of eastern India would probably be doused in a secessionist movement (with the open help of the Soviet Union). That, in effect, could cause a deep fracture within the country.

If New Delhi, with active US support, decided to crackdown upon the subversive elements, it would be decisive East Indians (my assumption) would not make it as the Vietnamese did. There would be a high chance of employing the jihadi network to contain the left-driven secessionist movement. Apart from the probability of this exercise turning into a soft repeat of Afghanistan, this would result in a massive exodus of the silent majority – most probably to the US. India, as a US ally, could very well be the host of a decade-long, low-profile civil war that would weaken it further.

The nuclear factor
With America on its side and the Pakistan factor nearly gone, it is debatable whether New Delhi would decide to go nuclear. The USA has been remarkably racist towards those who can or cannot have nuclear bombs under its watch; there is no reason why that kind of attitude would change. The UK, France, or Israel have traditionally remained the only allies that the USA has allowed to possess nuclear weapons; they are essentially ‘Western’ states in the eyes of Washington. There are no reasons to assume that that would change in the case of India.

The final verdict?
I have to admit, it looks quite similar to what it is today, albeit on a smaller, more manageable scale. India, as a US Cold War ally, would be a financially rich and technologically powerful country, but this power would remain concentrated within two or three urban centres due to heavy Western influence and the resultant concentration of infrastructure, manpower, and supply chains. [Fact: India is much the same today, with the exception of being a tech powerhouse – that tag has been snatched away by Taiwan.]

A significant chunk of the country would be rife with subterranean secessionist tendencies, and this might even be brought to execution with undue (Christian) American influence along the northeast sector [India has warded that off so far, but they remain a serious challenge].

Continuous domestic instability would cascade massive resource drains within the upwardly mobile middle class. [Fact: India has had a huge brain drain already; but yes, the resource drain as a consequence of being an ‘ally’ would be on a monstrous scale; with lenient immigration laws for Indians, millions more would move out.]

India, as a result of continuous interference from the West, would morph into a weak, soft state with a low monopoly on power. [Which India is today; one of the effects of 1991 liberalisation.]

The open jihadi networks would make India a prime target of GWOT (Global War on Terror) during the next phase. [India has managed to only slip past the GWOT part; the rest – significant Wahhabization, organised riots-rape-murder on the silent majority, all of which remain under-reported – remains the same.]

India as a country would be squatting in the middle of the seriously unstable end of the continent with neighbours like a radical Pakistan, a secessionist Baluchistan, a jihadi Afghanistan (and thus probably East Turkestan), a weak Tibet, and a resurgent China following its domestic recovery program. [Again, that is how it looks, on a smaller scale.]

Would that be the right price to pay for full access to Kashmir and a defined boundary with China? Especially with the current Ukraine conflict and the EU’s helplessness demonstrating the extent of damage that the USA can cause even to its closest ‘friends’ when push comes to shove? I started this essay with a quote, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”. Mull over some, and let me know what you all think.

Arindam Mukherjee is a geopolitical analyst and the author of JourneyDog Tales, The Puppeteer, and A Matter of Greed.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are the author’s own

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