By Ehsan Ullah Khan.
On 15 December 2015, the inexperienced and audacious Saudi Minister of Defence and the scion of Saudi ruling family, Mohammed Bin Salman, proclaimed in a presser, the birth of an Islamic Military Alliance, wherein the inclusions ranged from Pakistan and Turkey to Somalia and Sierra Leone, in terms of precedence and paramountcy. The Alliance was purely and purportedly, as the Minister put it and as the name suggested, for the purpose of propping up the fight against terror. But the conspicuous absence of Iran, Iraq and Syria added a tinge of suspicion to the Kingdom’s plans. Political and sectarian grounds were suggested as a base for the formation of the Alliance and according to some sources it was one grand effort by the Kingdom to counter growing Iranian clout in the Middle East and to strengthen its hold on its crown as the focal point of the Muslim world. However, the Kingdom was quick to quash any such rumors and theories like these were termed as detractor’s talk. The establishment of the Alliance set forth an eventful course and more importantly, to our dismay, due to the absence of Iran, pushed Pakistan to walk on diplomatic tightropes.
The Persian-Arab and Intra-Arab disputes have now been going on for centuries. Pakistan has got nothing to do with it other than to play the role of a neutral mediator.
There was much hue and cry on whether Pakistan should be a part of this Alliance or not, but as the saying goes, “a certain set of people can’t be choosers” – you know who. Furthermore being the Kingdom’s most important and resourceful ally, how possibly could Pakistan have been left out? Willy-nilly, we were bound to land in a diplomatically miserable situation and somehow, compelled to put holistic trust in the anti-terror notion of the Alliance.
Eventuated by the establishment of the Alliance, the “Thunder of The North” military exercises were held from Feb to March 2016 near King Khaled military city with the participation of 20 Muslim, sunni-majority, militaries. The event made quite an impression for the Kingdom and was topped off with a photo session of Muslim leaders holding hands in solidarity. The purpose, put forward, for these exercises was to reinvigorate the resolve in the fight against terror and maintain a sense of preparedness against radical extremism. But again the absence of Iran, Iraq and Syria raised serious eyebrows as the aforementioned countries had more to do with terrorism and anti-terrorism than all of the countries that were participating.
From then on, Islamabad and Tehran were headed towards a turbulent course. A spike in mistrust was inevitable and the appointment of Pakistan’s ex Army Chief as a head of the Alliance raised hackles in Tehran even more. This was reasonably substantiated by a surge in scuffles on the Pak-Iran border and the resulting harsh line that Tehran adopted towards Islamabad. But what could Islamabad have possibly done? No matter how misty the Military Alliance seemed, Islamabad appeared to lack a solid reason to believe that the Alliance was all but not for the stated purpose of fighting terror. Perhaps Islamabad lacked sound grounds for asserting its own agenda of neutrality.
Tehran was bashed and bullied in the most helpless and hapless manner as not one, out of the 54 muslim countries, gave lip service to its cause.
It might have been the situation up until recently. But now the scenario has changed and the circumstances have taken a Trump style turn. Thanks to Trump’s ostentatious visit to Riyadh – the proceedings of which were akin to an Asian wedding. During the Arab Islamic American Summit, Riyadh went more blatant with its anti-Iran approach and so did Trump. Iran was made a scapegoat for everything wrong going on in the Middle East. It was declared a sponsor of terror and the root cause of all evil. Tehran was bashed and bullied in the most helpless and hapless manner as not one, out of the 54 muslim countries, gave lip service to its cause. The summit had an obvious anti-Iran agenda and it might have made some right points for all the wrong reasons.
Uptill now it might have got clear to Islamabad that Riyadh is in no mood to curtail and abate its enmity and animosity towards Iran. In fact the Islamic Military Alliance might well be heading towards a point where it might rightly be called an Alliance against Iran and the Shiite majority muslim countries. Also with the recent Qatar-centric diplomatic flare-up, matters have got worse and further obfuscated. Pakistan cannot afford to stay mired through military alliances in the Middle East. The Persian-Arab and Intra-Arab disputes have now been going on for centuries. Pakistan has got nothing to do with it other than to play the role of a neutral mediator. It is high time for Pakistan to revisit its Middle Eastern policy, review its membership of the Islamic Military Alliance and reassert its approach of neutrality. Because by not doing so, Islamabad will not only lose its credibility in the Muslim world but it may also rid itself of a trustworthy neighbor in Iran.
Ehsan Ullah Khan is a student of Economics at Quaid-e-Azam University and has a flair for International Relations and Geopolitics.