The ongoing series of violent conflicts in the Middle East are catching the attention of the entire world and given the scale of carnage and loss of life, it is time for a permanent solution. Never before has the anxiety and concern of the international community been as high. The balkanization and various ideological schisms in the Arab world over the past several decades, mostly along ethno-sectarian lines has often ended up eroding the authority and writ of the state, weakening it to a point where the sectarian and, invariably, extremist forces gain influence and lead to chaos and anarchy, not to mention, a great deal of bloodshed.

Encouraged by its rapid territorial gains in northern and western Iraq, the ISIS asserted its ambition at the end of June this year, to establish a global caliphate, and indicating the aspirations, changed its name to “Islamic State.” The latest airstrikes launched by the US in Northern Iraq to protect US personnel and other minorities, especially the Kurdish sect of the Yezidis, has put them at some disadvantage, but has not completely wrecked their manoeuvrability, marking renewed US engagement in Iraq, a few years after withdrawal back in 2011. The ISIS execution videos of freelance journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and the British aid worker Alan Henning have been a game changer in the equation and balance of power. Notwithstanding a broader support for US strikes on the Islamic State, using air force so far, there has been some criticism over the US response to the abduction of the hostages and over nonpayment of ransom and conditions set by IS for release. Given the execution of yet another hostage in Algeria by an IS-linked group, the situation appears grim, with several more hostages in IS custody facing certain execution unless there is engagement with IS.

So what exactly has happened? Iraq has more or less disintegrated into splinters. The group Islamic State has announced grand plans for its Caliphate, with global aspirations. There is potential for a rebellion with brewing civil unrest by Kurdish groups in Turkey. The Afghan presidential election more than revealed the country’s traditional split across ethnic lines, especially because of re-counting amidst claims and counterclaims of rigging and impropriety. Nuclear containment talks with Iran are making little to no progress, with Israel often making clear its willingness to use military force against Iran for checking its nuclear programme.

Ukraine is in a mess with hopes of a ceasefire agreement falling apart. The subversive forces operational in Ukraine, admittedly in favor of unification with Russia, are considered responsible for the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines flight, a civilian aircraft, by a surface to air missile, with a subsequent boycott of that entire airspace by the aviation industry. China is continuously elbowing its way through. Japan seems martial again, while Britain is thinking of leaving the European Union with more tension created by the recent Scottish referendum. Disorder is brewing in South America, with fierce demonstrations in Brazil against the massive amounts spent on the Football World Cup. In general, the circumstances are excessively strained for solace. It is by all accounts the disentangling of the “new world order”.

From the perspective of territory, power and resources, the turmoil to the worst degree in manifesting in the Middle East, ablaze with several crises, not just in Gaza but Syria, Lebanon and Iraq as well. Even in Africa, vicious fighting is going on in Libya with foreigners being evacuated. Trouble is brewing in Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. Central Africa is conflict ridden with the Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria routinely kidnapping vulnerable civilians and killing more than 2000 civilians in a spate of deadly attacks. Closer to home, suicide bomb attacks continue to shatter any hope of a return to peace and tranquility in Afghanistan, whereas in Pakistan the army had to be called in to guard the capital to deal with the political crisis and protest against electoral fraud. The issue of rigging in polls has split the country in a significant way and rebellion by some forces opposed to the elected government, threatening the order and the establishment.

Geographically, the Middle East has borders with Africa, South Asia, Central Asia and Europe, and is a major gateway for global trade routes. Its significance can be understated also due to its huge oil and gas reserves. Besides the longstanding Arab-Israel conflicts, the priorities of the US government in this region are often changed to suit its own interests. During the Arab spring, they let down their old ally Hosni Mubarak and supported the revolution. Now they have turned against the Muslim Brotherhood which managed to come to power after the first democratic elections in the country’s history. The US opposes Assad in Syria; however with ISIS attacking Syrian as well as Iraqi government forces, they are faced with an acute dilemma. Saudi Arabia is keeping its cards close to its chest. And so, US foreign policy in the region is undergoing some substantial challenges today. The role of western powers is no longer decisive or critical to the situation. The Russia China axis is acting against US in Syria and Iran. It is clear that western powers, led by the US, will adopt a strategy best-suited to their own interests and priorities. In some conflict zones, the US is responsible for fuelling turmoil and unrest, while in others, the US is acting as the stabilizing force in order to enforce peace.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.

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