A wake up call
‘It was nothing short of a Saudi Royal decree. Its compulsory acceptance is inbuilt religiously, economically and also for very private reasons of brotherly humility for the never ending dole-outs by the current ruler, calling upon it subjects, more so the government in Pakistan to be on the front line of the Saudi conjured coalition to defend what it calls Islamic interest as franchised by it under the brand name of Wahabism, having proved to be more divisive and destructive than anything else in Islam,’ states Wajid Shamsul Hasan, former High Commissioner of Pakistan for Britain.
Pakistan claimed unawareness of joining any such alliance when news broke. From being unaware to welcoming the alliance took barely a few days and exclusion of parliamentary discussion to decide upon this hugely important issue. However, some sanity remains, whereas a local newspaper reports quoting FO spokesman Qazi Khalilullah writes that Pakistan is part of the alliance against terrorism, “We are participating in this alliance against terrorism. The only thing that needs to be decided is the extent of our participation in various activities of the alliance.” (December 18, 2015)
In the meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is taking onboard opposition parties of coalition countries to lobby for their cause. The same report quotes Asif Ali Zardari with Senator Rehman Malik and some family members to be in Saudi Arabia upon an invite.
What is the alliance about? Is it about terrorism or is it about extending Saudi Arabia’s area of influence?
Two extremely valid points raised by Adam Taylor need attention: “Perhaps the most damning criticism of the alliance is just how vague it is. Jubeir has said that “nothing is off the table” when it comes to the alliance, which will not only have a military component but also tackle terror funding and ideology. What that means in practice is anyone’s guess. The exclusion of Shia nations in an alliance designed to represent the Islamic world seems to reinforce the belief that Saudi Arabia’s alliance is motivated by a sectarian rivalry with Iran and not terrorism. The problem is that sectarianism often feeds further into extremism. And while this new alliance may appear to target terrorism, it’s not hard to see it as an extension of the Saudi-led coalition currently fighting in Yemen – a war that sums up the sectarian quagmire currently engulfing the Middle East.”(Washington Post, December 17, 2015)
“General Raheel Shareef should treat it as a direct threat to his crusade against terrorism. As this would pump in more foreign sectarian money and arms for the different groups proxy-ing for various foreign masters on behalf of Daesh or against it,” says Wajid Shamsul Hasan. “Most importantly, our emphasis should be that lessons need to be learnt from history. Never in recent history any war coalition/military alliance or an axis opposing it, has resulted in restoring peace. We have seen the aftermath of 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Algeria, Lebanon, Vietnam etc. Millions got killed, economies destroyed, dislocations of populations, miseries all around—peace is only restored at the negotiating table and only there issues are settled.”
Lest we forget, Pakistan is the second largest country having Shia population. Such an alliance in exclusion to any Shia country will inevitably lead to a worse situation of sectarian violence in Pakistan.
Brigadier Rashid Ali Malik, Chairman APSAA is bull’s eye when he says, “Pakistan by any stretch of imagination is not Mideast. Pakistan is totally involved in its own war for survival. India can never be trusted. Pakistan cannot take sides in any Sunni-Shia war. Pakistan at best can play an advisory role.” Yes, Pakistan must play a conciliatory role, that of a mediator. Not as an aggressor or a partner in terms of inflicting aggression on another state. Wajid Shamsul Hasan is on the same page, “Pakistan should urge upon all the Muslim countries to join hands and invoke the United Nations into action. It should ask the Arab League and OIC to wake up to get down to resolving the issue. After all it is an Arab issue fast escalating into sectarian conflict.”
A day after Wajid Shamsul Hasan gave his opinion, Al-Jazeera broke the news that the fifteen members of UN Security Council agreed upon a draft resolution calling for peace conference in January and ceasefire, and adopted unanimously. Let us hope something positive comes out of this that can be implemented being acceptable to all involved.
This is not the first time Saudi Arab wants Pakistan to fight its war. In Yemen, Pakistan refused to fight the war for Saudis and rightly. On March 30, 2015, facing the same decision for Yemen on behalf of Saudi Arabia, in my op-ed I had written and its worth repeating here as the ground realities remain the same, still: “Pakistan has its plate full of its share of problems. Homegrown terrorism, sponsored terrorism, an untenable border between her and Afghanistan, a hostile neighbour, and its army engaged in a war within its borders that needs to be fought with single-minded focus. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Then there are practical considerations: Does Pakistan has the surplus troops to send to Yemen? Can we undertake this venture when we are at war on our own home ground? It was therefore with a huge sigh of relief that many read Khawaja Asif’s statement that Pakistan would not participate in a conflict that could divide Muslim Ummah. In addition to it came another positive statement that, ‘Pakistan is ready to facilitate the end of conflicts in the Islamic world with a pragmatic view that involvement in conflict could aggravate fault-lines in Pakistan.’ I think similar must be the stance of Pakistan in case of Syria.
The thirty two countries announced magnanimously in the coalition of 34 are: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Pakistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Turkey, Chad, Togo, Tunisia, Djibouti, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gabon, Guinea, Palestine, Comoros, Qatar, Cote Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Yemen.
Read that list carefully and you will see only Pakistan and Turkey with armies of strength in number and quality. “Pakistan needs to remember that none of the members of 34-country alliance has an army that could qualify to be better than red tag. The whole brunt would fall on the shoulders of Pakistan and Turkey. Let Turkey decide what it wants to do, Pakistan should be firm that it can’t be part of fratricidal conflict whatever money Saudis offer.”(Wajid Shamsul Hasan)
Pakistan must also keep in mind while taking the decision, that Pakistan needs Russia and Iran on their side in the upcoming China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. With USA’s overtures to India, converging of interests between Russia-China-Pakistan is the call of the future. Iran has her own interests as the corridor definitely works for Iran opening up the reach to the east. China, seen as Pakistan’s ‘all-weather friend’ will not like to see the project yet again being placed on the backburner at the cost of playing ‘tea-boy’ to Saudi interests. “The world’s largest explosives manufacturer, Beijing Auxin Chemical Technology Limited, is all set to establish a plant in the country. The company will manufacture emulsion explosives which will “meet the future demand of explosives and blasting accessories in the light of CPEC, large-scale mining and hydroelectric projects.” (The Diplomat, October 14, 2015) This is only one example.
‘Why is Pakistan coming down so heavily on the Saudi side when this opens up big risks in its relations with its large and powerful neighbour, Iran? The answer has much to do with Pakistan’s economic troubles. A terrorist insurgency and the government’s inability to deal with it has also scared off any foreign investors who might have injected money into the ailing economy. An energy crisis has slowed down work in factories and offices, and importing oil has become increasingly expensive. With dwindling reserves of foreign currency, Pakistan has been surviving from one IMF loan to the next, with some additional respite in the form of American reimbursements for money spent on the Afghan war. Pakistan has always been dependent on American aid, whether in the form of development funds or F-16s. Now the American money is dwindling and Pakistan must look elsewhere for financial support.’ (The American Interest, March 15, 2014)
The cost Pakistan is paying and will continue to pay for God knows how long, for choices made by Zia to succumb to USA’s need to counter Russia in Afghanistan in raising the Mujahedeen with USA, UK and Saudi Arabia as its funders, rechristened later as Taliban, should be a lesson in history. Pakistan is facing a war on terror within its borders that has cost thousands of lives of civilians, army and police personnel. It has damaged the social fabric of the country and economy has been a heavy casualty. Pakistan must not repeat the disastrous mistake the second time round.
Terrorism has different faces; it can be ethnic, sectarian, religious based so on and so forth. Is Wajid Shamsul Hasan right when he says, “Besides giving our people jobs, chopping their heads off whenever need be, hosting their palaces to our VIPs, doling out chunks of their zakat money to keep us surviving on their ventilators, its major threat to our existence is its violent and suicide-bomber cult of Wahabism.”
This is a wake-up call for those in power.