The government seems to have asked Indian nationals in Bahrain to avoid appearing too much in the public and to stay indoor as a precautionary measure. Will such a limited advisory do in the developing situation? I think dependents should be advised to leave, if possible - although the advisory by the Philippines asking its nationals to leave may be too hasty. The Bahrain situation is likely to worsen and a bloody denouement is on the cards. Shi’ite revolts are cyclical, with every ‘martyrdom’ engendering a new wave of resistance. The geopolitics of the crisis immensely complicates matters. The Saudis have already lost one trooper in ‘friendly firing’.
The Saudi army is not rated highly for its professionalism. It may prove trigger-happy while confronting agitators. On the very first day, they reportedly shot down 5 Bahraini Shi’ite protestors. The more they use violence, the more there will be an international outcry and the Saudis can’t let up, either, since they know Bahrain is the defence line of their own regime.
Bahrain has announced a 3-month emergency. A crackdown is on the cards. On Tuesday, helicopters were seen hovering over residential areas in Manama. A march to the Saudi embassy was violently broken up. According to latest reports, tanks and armoured vehicles are moving into the Pearl Square where demonstrators have been camping. All eyes are on the top Bahraini Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qasim. A call by him for vacation of GCC occupation of Bahrain will have serious implications. The US’s Fifth Fleet may also get drawn into the controversy, as the Shi’ite uprising may turn into a ‘jihad’ against all foreign military presence. The GCC is skating on thin ice since ‘collective security’ is commonly meant to be against external aggression and not in putting down internal popular uprising against regimes.
US has refused to censure the Saudi intervention. White House spokesman has come out with a weak defence of the Saudi move, indicating that Riyadh most certainly moved in concert with Washington’s priorities in the Bahrain situation. AFP quoted White House spokesman James Carney as saying, “This is not an invasion of a country”. Pentagon has admitted that it had prior knowledge of Saudi intervention. Defence Secretary Robert Gates paid an unannounced visit to Manama on Friday. As I had outlined yesterday
, Iran is stepping up its political and diplomatic campaign against the Bahrain crackdown. Saudi intervention in Bahrain is a veritable propaganda coup for Iran. Following up on his conversation with the OIC SG Ekmeddin Ihsanoglu on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Salehi spoke to his Turkish and Qatari counterparts and the Arab League SG Amr Moussa. Arab League finds itself in a fix now, after strongly condemning the use of violence by Gaddafi in Libya. Iranian MFA called in the Saudi ambassador, but interestingly, at the level of DG [our Joint Secretary]. Iran also made a demarche with the Swiss ambassador in Tehran (who looks after US Interests Section) to lodge a protest against the US “support for foreign military intervention in Bahrain.” Iran said US support is contrary to international law and UN Charter and US will be held responsible for the “consequences” of Saudi intervention. Meanwhile, indications are that Tehran will refuse to deal with Abdullah of Jordan at this juncture. It also underscores Tehran’s belief that in Bahrain, Saudis are going to be in a quagmire soon and Iran should keep its powder dry. Of course, a protracted Saudi quagmire will be to Iran’s advantage.
How long the US position of support to Saudi intervention is sustainable remains to be seen. Already, there is a division of opinion in the western camp, with EU openly voicing concern over “reports of serious violence on the streets of Bahrain”, according to a statement in Brussels on Tuesday. EU called on Bahrain ruler to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to gather freely and peacefully”.
Delhi’s predicament is also acute. MOS E Ahamed is Delhi’s point person with the Persian Gulf regimes. He has extensive contacts with the ruling oligarchies even at a personal level. Geopolitically also, Ahamed’s line meshed well with the overall Indian policy to prefer to deal with the “pro-West” regimes. So far it worked well and proved to be mutually advantageous. Now, the dilemma for Delhi will be as to what point to begin to distance itself from the rulers. It is an extremely tricky decision to make. Does Delhi see the Bahrain as a call of history? Does it see that a regime change is inevitable? That is the main issue.
Ahamed is so far prepared to commit only to the stance that Delhi is “closely watching the evolving situation in Bahrain”, which is stating the obvious, and has asked Indians to “keep low profile”, stay indoors and avoid all non-essential travel. [The key word is "evolving".] Delhi seems to estimate that it is still early stages and the regime may somehow manage to brave the unrest and it would be tactically advantageous to be seen as having kept on its right side at a time of trouble. But an opportunistic policy has inherent dangers in the event of the crisis boiling over and a scramble begins among the expatriates to leave the sinking ship. Half the population of Bahrain consists of foreigners and the heavy majority of them hail from Kerala.
It becomes a tough call for Ahamed politically, as he is also a Muslim League leader from Kerala and the state is going for a crucial election, which increasingly promises to be a tough fight with the Left Front significantly boosting its prospects in the recent weeks. In Kerala, a small swing in the traditional voting pattern can create havoc in the election results and Malayalis are an opinionated people on the whole. Muslim League is already rocked by a ’sex scandal’ involving its state leadership.