By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi
With due respect to people who are actively advocating the Saudi lead military coalition as a golden opportunity for Muslim Unity etc and Gen. Raheel’s possible candidature as its head, here’s my perspective
Those who haven’t learned from history and current geo political realities are doomed to repeat it.
I often heard my dear late father repeating the above whenever people debated his geo political analysis. Especially when he was fairly sure about his conclusions. When not, he would ask questions and patiently listen or go research.
Go back and read history, he would say. And once you are clear why nations are friendly or at war, then look at the map. The answer will be as clear as day!
While the outcomes desired of creating Muslim unity, which basically means bringing the two main protagonists, Saudi Arabia and Iran together are laudable, but infortunately the history and current geo politics and the map tells us a very different story.
Either directly or indirectly there is political and or military conflict between.
Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia
Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Syria and Saudi Arabia.
Syria and Turkey.
Syria and Egypt.
Iran and Egypt.
Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistan and Iran.
UAE and Iran.
UAE and Syria.
UAE and Iraq.
One can go on and on.
The conclusion is simple. Achieving Muslim unity requires a complete change in the mindset of all parties, getting common alignment of economic and geo political interests and getting past 4 decades of conflicts in some cases.
And given the current environment this is as impossible as Nawaz Sharif publicly exclaiming his guilt, expressing remorse, aplogising to the nation and asking that he and all his cronies be punished.
But back to our main issue.
For Saudi the dominant fear was and still is, the fear of the Al Saud ruling monarchy being overthrown. Survival overtakes everything else. It is this fear which found them aligned to Al Qaeda in Yemen and in Syria, financing and funding them, and opening doors with Israel.
And this existential fear of dynastic death has been the primary driver of their entire Middle Eastern and Regional policy.
Consequently their prime foreign policy objective was and is to eliminate, the country who they thought was the greatest threat to their survival. Iran and all her allies. Syria being the current target.
Iran is as much to blame for this fear as is Saudi. Soon after the Iranian Islamic Revolution, in 1979, Iran went into overdrive and started a massive Shia Islam propagation in the neighborhood and targeting Shia majority Northern Afghanistan, Shia majority Bahrain, Shia majority Eastern Saudi Arabia, raising fears of a “me to copy cat” Islamic revolution in Saudi Arabia by radical Sunni groups, being radicalized by US presence and the beginning of the Islamic Jihad in Afghanistan.
This fear changed to near insanity when in November 1979, a group of radical Saudi militants took over of the Kaaba.
Their stated aim. Exactly what the ruling Al Saud family feared. Their overthrow and the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in Saudi Arabia. The event, to quote a french diplomat “was like the hangman’s noose for the Al Saud”
So the Saudi did two major things. One was internal. To create a narrative of Jihadism and to show to the Saudi public that the ruling family was very ‘Islamic” and “Jihadist”. School and University curriculum now actively and openly advocated Jihad.
And the Afghan Jihad against the USSR in Afghanistan picked up pace in 1980 and eventually 25000 Saudis made it to Afghanistan to fight the Russians.
These Saudis and others, actively supported by Saudi Arabia and Pakistani later fought the predominately Shia Northern Alliance supported by Iran in the terrible genocidal Afghan Civil War. This took place from 1994 to 2001 following the Russian withdrawal and the fall of the Communist Afghan. regime..
Externally the Saudis propped up Saddam with 37$ billion to wage war against Iran and overthrow the Islamic regime. A war that lasted 9 years from 1980 to 1989 with over a million causalities and no winner.
Also they ensured Iran’s isolation by raising the fear of Iran’s nuclear program with the USA, which resulted in crippling economic sanctions.
One major reason Iran moved away from Pakistan and closer to India was India’s economic support to Iran by ignoring sanctions and buying Iranian oil and helping them with 100’s of millions of dollars of aid. A senior army general asked me, why did they do so. I said a beggar who is starving will take food from everybody. Iran was completed destroyed and was desperate. And Pakistan, closely allied to the USA and Saudi Arabia declined to help Iran.
In the current environment that is why the Saudis and Iranians have been so active in the Syrian civil war. Iran to ensure its major ally does not fall. Saudia Arabia doing everything to bring down an Iranian ally.
Analysts have called it “breaking the so called Shia crescent stretching from Iran, Iraq, Syria to Lebanon. The mix of religion, sectarianism and geo politics at its classic best.
Iran, fought back by supporting all anti Saudi groups in the Region. Instigating the Shia majority in Bahrain, the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia, and the Houthis in Yemen, to overthrow the Saudi regime.
So in summary that is why the two countries were and are fighting to overthrow each others regimes! It really has been a battle to destroy each other. And of course the sectarian schism has played a huge role in seeking alliance partners.
And today we can see the devastating effects of this battle in Pakistan. Thousands killed. Shias mostly.
Hence that is why, in my opinion, the military coalition is perhaps the last thing that defines shared common interests. Alignment starts with shared common, economic and Geo political interests.
And one way for Pakistan to achieve alignment is to get EAST WEST linkages into CPEC, in addition to the NORTH SOUTH. This means bringing the following countries into the fold.
Central Asian Republics.
By tying the economic interests of these countries, having them trade through CPEC, especially our immediate neighbours, Iran, India, Afghanistan is there a much greater probability that they will more favourably inclined towards Pakistan to preserve their own economic interests.
Therefore it is critical that we first set our own house in order and not get involved in any highly polarized military coalition pipe dream. A coalition unlikely to see the light of day, or even if it does, it will just be a Saudi force, with a sprinkling from UAE, as it is now.
Our sectarian violence and terrorism and our jihadi outfits are our biggest enemies.
Fixing governance and institutional decay. Creating Jobs. Providing better Healthcare and Law and order. Addressing the cancer of corruption. Major electoral and administrative reforms. These are and should be our priorities.
Externally, its setting our immediate neighborhood in order. India, Afghanistan and Iran to start with. CPEC is a God send. We must leverage it.
And let us also not forget who pulls the strings of the main parties in the business.
All these countries, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and many others, also answer to a higher puppet master, the USA, with varying degrees of control or of enmity.
And now China and Russia also actively involved.
So Muslim Unity is a very tall order. A very very tall order.
Gen. Raheel was a very effective Chief, honest, clearheaded and did wonders for the Army’s and the Country’s morale. His role and the office of Army chief must not be made controversial.
I think he can play a greater role in aligning countries to our CPEC as Pakistan’s CPEC Ambassador rather than as Chief of a Saudi lead military body.
And there, hopefully, he can make a huge difference and impact, which directly benefits Pakistan.