One of the most troubling questions today is how the ISIS emerged and expanded in so fast a manner as to defy a clear understanding to those who have been and still are trying to make sense of it? The sudden rise of the ISIS and the consequent shift of analysis away from the Syrian question is a classic example of how the modern global political economy of war is working; for now, we are grappling with the Middle Eastern ‘question.’ That the Middle East is an energy rich region and that the West needs this energy explain to a great extent why the fateful region remains deeply immersed in wars and conflicts and why one war leads to another war. The chain reaction of wars and interventions has an internal logic of its own—global hegemony, which is tacitly covered by the West by raising the slogans of “terrorism”, “extremism” and “fundamentalism.”
Since the dawn of the twenty-first century, what we have witnessed are wars being orchestrated, which were and still are apparently local in scale but global in terms of impact; and that the US has been at the helm of all of these wars, especially in the Middle East. An important aspect of most of these wars is that most of them have been and still are being fought against the so-called “non-state actors.” Apparently the ascendance of these “non-state actors” on global level and the incidents of 9/11 seem coincidental; however, this is becoming evident, with every day passing, that these “non-actors” were invented out of the ‘rubric’ of cold war and were remodeled to serve the US’ grand interest, that is, perpetuation of the US global hegemony after the end of cold war by enabling her to grab and take control of the flow of energy—oil and gas—to the rest of the word. It is for this very reason that the US led ‘war on terror’ in every target country was followed by grand plans for the construction of oil and gas pipelines; and, it is again for this very reason that the US vehemently opposed other states’ independent plans for constructing pipelines. Iran-Pakistan pipeline, which was formerly Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project, can be taken as a point in case. India was made to step out by the US and then Pakistan, too, was made to abandon this project simply because this project would have given a lifeline to Iran’s economy, which was otherwise badly crippled by the US-EU imposed sanctions.
The phenomenon of “non-state” actors became more prominent with the coming of conflict in Syria. The US and its allies, such as Saudia and Qatar, provided all sorts of assistance to help topple Assad’s regime by arming militant groups. That strategy not only failed badly but also has now started to blow back. Among other groups which were armed to fight Assad’s army was the ISIS/ISIL, which came to prominence after the US officially declared Al-Nusra front as a terrorist outfit. It is precisely since then the world has been speculating over the ‘sudden’ emergence of the ISIS/ISIL and the kind of weapons it has been using against the Syrian and Iraqi army. The ISIS/ISIL could not have gained such a stock of heavy arms and ammunition but without help from other sources; and, the most probable source is the US itself, which is now pretending t0 fight and contain the ISIS/ISIL in Iraq.
The emergence of the ISIS/ISIL is deeply linked with the US’ up-coming exit from Afghanistan. According to some credible reports, the US military equipment worth $420 million went missing in action in Afghanistan during the last year alone. According to a recent Pentagon report, 156,000 pieces of hardware, including sophisticated weapons systems, vehicles and communications gear vanished into thin air in fiscal year 2013. The report also revealed that between 2006 and 2010, 133,557 pieces of equipment valued at $238.4 million could not be accounted for. Given the suspicion that the military hardware has been supplied to the ISIS, it cannot be categorically denied that the figures given in the said report are misleading. This was also confirmed by Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, when she told the Reuters that “there’s probably a lot more missing than what’s been reported by this Inspector General’s report.”
To understand this complex development, one has to keep in mind some other related developments which took place during the last year or so. The US President Barak Obama, who is known to have made at least seven invasions/offensives to date, in an unprecedented way reportedly decided in the last year to leave to the US Congress the decision of attacking or not attacking Syria. The reason for this change by Obama administration is a tactical one rather than a political one. In other words, Obama didn’t do so out of respect for the constitutional procedures but as a tactic to seduce the public opinion; for, it was correctly realized that taking sides in the Syrian civil war was a bad public relations move since al-Qaeda was also allied with the Syrian rebels against the Assad government. On the other hand, there was also the nagging problem of chemical weapons. It would have been a bad strategy on the part of the US to have Syria bombed when the US supported rebels were fighting on the ground—hence, the US foreign secretary’s offer to Assad to hand over chemical weapons as a precondition to calling off the rebels. However, as a result of a successful Russian intervention at this point, the US had to bring the UNO in, and as a result of this, the unenviable task of removing Syria’s chemical weapons was eventually assumed by the United Nations, leaving no pretext for the US to attack and bomb Syria.
However, the US was never satisfied with the removal of chemical weapons; for, the real issue was never the weapons; the real issue was and still is toppling Assad’ regime and replace it with the one more sensitive to protecting the US’ interests. In fact, Washington, which had previously openly stated its intentions of assisting the rebels to usurp the elected leader of Syria, could never be expected to close the Syria chapter forever; instead, it came up with a new strategy—hence, the ‘sudden’ appearance of the ISIS on the horizon and the disappearance of military hardware from Afghanistan. It is, as such, not a coincidence that all of these developments took place during the last one year or so. Similarly, it is not a coincidence that the emergence of the ISIS on the horizon was preceded by the supply of the same merchandise and hardware that went ‘mysteriously’ missing in Afghanistan. Still, it was further followed by videos uploaded, one after another, by the ISIS showing beheading of the US and British journalists, which provided the US and its allies to mobilize public opinion to do what it could not do just a year ago: attack the Syrian territory.
Although the US has, so far, retrained itself from going all out against the Syrian Army, it does not mean that Pentagon will not change its gear from “defensive strategy” to an all-out offensive against Syria. As a matter of fact, certain reports have already come out claiming that the US is actually destroying Syrian oil reservoirs instead of attacking the ISIS/ISIL hideouts. One can get a glimpse of this actuality by acknowledging the fact that the news of the US’ activities in Syria is being tightly controlled by the US military, which has almost completely given up the practice of “embedded journalism” in the ranks after a few media mavericks in Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which badly hurt the US military’s public image.
Some other reports have mentioned that the US is not only targeting the Syrian territory, that is territory controlled by Syrian army, but also attacking compounds belonging to other fighting groups like Al-Nusra Front which are themselves opposed to the ISIS/ISIL. Similarly, it was also reported that a compound belonging to the Islamic group Ahrar al-Sham in Syria’s northwestern territory also came under American attack, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. On Friday, the US military announced that it carried out air strikes against the al-Qaeda-linked Khorasan group, an organization few people had heard of before the aerial campaign began in Syria.
As a result of such a highly selective bombing, the ISIS/ISIL is gradually drifting out of the picture as a host of other lesser known or completely unknown groups are becoming targets of the US jets. The situation being created by such claimed bombing is further confusing the situation for those who are trying to make sense of it. Nonetheless, this deliberately projected confusion, too, has an internal logic of its own which would become clear when the US would finally start attacking the Syrian army in the heart of the Syrian territory. As such, it appears only a matter of time before the Syria campaign, initially against the ISIS/ISIL, will start to resemble the former war in Iraq, carved up with no-fly zones and massive bombardments and the eventual toppling of Damascus. This would be the time when people will simply forget the “grave threat” the ISIS/ISIL is posing today, or that military equipment worth billions of dollars was lost in Afghanistan and covertly supplied to the ISIS/ISIL.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.