New Delhi: There is a sense of world affairs changing since the return to primacy of Vladimir Putin in Russia and India must rapidly set its house in order to be able to take advantage of this. The narrative since the end of the Cold War has been dominantly set by the United States and its European allies with Russia helplessly watching from the sidelines and the most negative impact of this has been felt in the Islamic and particularly the Arab world where regime change has become the most disconcerting norm. That flawed course has now met with resolute opposition from Putin’s Russia which has refused to end its materiel backing of the Bashar-al-Assad regime in Syria. At the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland, Putin referred to the Islamist Syrian opposition and said to its misguided American and European Union backers, “It is barely worth (supplying arms) to support people who not only kill their enemies but open up their bodies and eat their internal organs in front of the public and the cameras.” He added that “many of them are exactly the same as the ones who perpetrated the killing in London.” He was citing the brutal murder of the off-duty British soldier, Lee Rigby, in Woolwich in Southeast London last month.

Since the rise of Islamist terrorism in the post-Cold War world, the West has found no means or ideology to contain it. Going after the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, the US and its allies dislodged the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and killed the Al-Qaeda chief, Osama Bin Laden, after a ten-year-long manhunt. But the situation in Afghanistan threatens to turn a full circle with the return to power of the Taliban backed by Pakistan once international forces thin on the ground and the domestic opposition is rolled over. The fountainhead of Islamist terrorism has been Pakistan since the so-called mujahideen wars of the late-1970s and 1980s and India’s warning of this went unheeded by the US or its allies, whilst Russia was too weakened after the collapse of the Soviet Union to be an effective counterweight.

The Afghan war was scarcely in control when the United States under George W.Bush pursued Saddam Hussein in Iraq toppling his secular regime and throwing the country into chaos and disarray which only strengthened the Islamic terror elements. Back in Afghanistan, the United States tried and failed to replicate its Iraq military strategies including a too-little, too-delayed surge, whilst the central element of Pakistan’s backing to Taliban and Al-Qaeda terror groups in the highland country was ignored. Even as Afghanistan remained uncontrolled, there was bloody regime change in Libya, another more-or-less secular state. The last bastion of Arab secularism was Syria which had Iran’s support, and the Assad regime seemed destined to fall too until Vladimir Putin intervened. Russian intervention has confused and tantalized the other G8 countries which made an extraordinary pitch at the Northern Ireland summit for a coup against the Assad government.

The regime changes effected by the West in Islamic countries have unshackled Islamist forces there and ironically endangered the United States and its European partners more. If the idea behind regime change was to throw the Muslim countries in an arc from Afghanistan westwards into convulsion and vicious civil war so that attention of the terror forces was diverted from the Western countries, their original and common enemies, that has not happened. Indeed, the Woolwich attack tells of the clear and present danger of Islamist militancy from radicalized individuals despite (and perhaps because of) the dismantling of the Al-Qaeda as an integrated, state-based, organized terror group. At any rate, Putin’s intervention in Syria on the side of the regime has returned Cold War posturing in a post-Cold War world, and in a twist of fate, there are more takers for Russia’s line than for that of the United Kingdom, France and others, which appear shamelessly and dangerously opportunistic. If leading Western democracies openly call for a coup in Syria, they are no better than dictatorships, and Putin has done well to expose their duplicity and hypocrisy.

It is all too evident which side of the narrative India must support. It has already made a beginning by backing Iran’s presidency of the Conference of Disarmament where the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty is stalled for negotiations because of Pakistan and China. The US and its allies have boycotted Iran’s presidency. Also, India has a stake in the moderate leadership of Hassan Rouhani who has come surprisingly to power in Iran without making any difference to the hostility displayed by the United States and others. Iran remains an endangered regime alongwith those such as Syria and India has as much stake as Russia in preserving the status quo in the Islamic world. The West has no understanding of Islam and no conception of handling Islamic radicalism and the military state violence it has unleashed on the Middle East has profoundly destabilized the world. Vladimir Putin’s intervention, therefore, is timely and should be judiciously supported.

But if India has to play a valuable part in a geo-strategic environment recast for the second or third time after the end of the Cold War, it has to return to the path of high growth and resolute rise, which unfortunately the Manmohan Singh government has seriously compromised. There is nearly a year more for a new government to come and hopefully retrieve the situation, and it is painful to consider the lost opportunities in this waiting period.