A new government anywhere is called upon to face and pass all kinds of tests. But the challenge posed by the abduction of 40 Indians in Iraq has come rather unexpectedly for Narendra Modiís new government. How he deals with this first major foreign policy test could be crucial for the image of the new regime. The challenge is particularly complex because New Delhi has practically no links with the major players responsible for the latest crisis in Iraq. As such, Indiaís options for initiating diplomatic or other exercises in order to ensure the release of its abducted nationals are rather limited. But that does not absolve the government of its responsibility to try and do all that it can. It was a sensible move on the governmentís part to immediately send Suresh Reddy, the countryís former envoy in Iraq, to Baghdad to help the Indian embassy there in the rescue mission. The volatile situation in Iraq leaves no room for misadventures or false steps. The Indian efforts to locate the abducted people and to eventually get them released and evacuated back home have to be launched with extreme caution.
In fact, this could turn out to be only a prelude to a much bigger test that India might face in the region. The speed at which the Iraqi governmentís authority collapsed in the face of the militantsí offensives caught most of the world by surprise. How widely the sectarian violence will now unfold is still unclear. There is no doubt, though, that the next stage of the Iraqi crisis will drag not just the region but other parts of the world as well in its web. For India, the biggest fallout would be on the countryís oil import bill. That, in turn, could push prices up and add to an already high rate of inflation. However, adjusting to the shifting grounds of geopolitics could pose a tougher test for New Delhi. There are indications that several other countries in the region are being drawn inexorably into the Iraqi conflict. What happens in Iraq has thus serious consequences for countries such as Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. India has reasons to worry about its economic and diplomatic interests in the area, especially in Iran and Saudi Arabia. And, the Indian strategy has to take into account whatever the United States of America does next in West Asia. The challenge has come rather early for Mr Modiís government. But it is also an opportunity for him to test the battle-readiness of Indiaís foreign policy establishment.