And the role Pakistan should play
In December 2015, Saudi Arabia announced a coalition of 34 Muslim countries to fight Daesh, tackling challenges confronting the Islamic world in regards to terrorism and to save international peace and stability. Saudi Defence Minister and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud said the aim was to tackle the Islamic world’s problems with terrorism and to be a partner in the worldwide fight against the scourge of terrorism.
Now at the conclusion of joint military exercises of 21 nations called ‘North Thunder’, Saudi Arabia has proposed the formation of a NATO-like alliance of the Muslim countries, which seems a move to convert the 34-nation coalition into a formal military alliance. The Kingdom reportedly has sought Pakistan’s cooperation to implement the plan and has entrusted it with chalking out framework for the proposed military alliance. According to Pakistani media COAS General Raheel Sharif has been offered the role of the Commander-in-Chief of the proposed alliance upon his retirement from Pakistan Army. The main goal of the exercise was to improve training in responding to the threat posed by terrorist groups. Though Pakistan has not formally indicated whether it would join the military alliance or not but it is understood that both have agreed to continue consultations on the proposal.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and COAS who were in Saudi Arabia to witness the closing sessions of the 21-day military exercises, during their stay also held meetings with the Saudi leaders on security related issues, terrorism and bilateral relations between the two countries. Both the countries reportedly also signed six agreements for development projects, non-military aid and soft loans under which Saudi Arabia will provide $122 million to Pakistan.
As is evident the objectives of the proposed alliance have both regional and global dimensions in regards to fighting terrorism. IS or Daesh is not only a grave threat to the Middle Eastern region but also to all the Muslim countries around the globe. Almost sixty countries around the globe are waging war against the group. It claims political, religious and military authority over all the Muslim countries in the world and its avowed aim is to establish an Islamic state comprising all Muslim lands under one Caliph. It is the biggest threat to all the Muslim countries and Saudi Arabia. It has been declared as a terrorist organisation by the UN, EU, US, UK, Australia, Canada, Turkey Saudi Arabia, UAE, Syria, Egypt, India and Russia. It controls territories in Iraq, Syria and Libya. According to a report compiled by a panel of UN experts, more than 25,000 foreign fighters hailing from Tunisia, Morocco, France, Russia, Maldives, Finland and sub-Saharan countries have joined Daesh in Syria, Iraq and Libya. So the biggest threat to Middle East and the Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia and even Iran at the moment, is from this group. Pakistan being a Muslim country is also very much a likely target of IS and there are already indications of its presence in Afghanistan. Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) which was based in North Waziristan and has relocated itself in Afghanistan owes allegiance to Daesh. The IMU strength is estimated to be in the range of five-seven thousand and their ranks reportedly are swelling due to new recruitments from the Central Asian States. Some TTP groups based on the Afghan soil have also vowed their allegiance to IS.
The foregoing developments are very worrying for Afghanistan and Pakistan and might have a debilitating impact on chances of reconciliation in Afghanistan and fight against terrorism that Pakistan and Afghanistan have vowed to take to its logical end, if not checked in their tracks before they become a formidable threat. Recent acts of IS sponsored terrorism in Saudi Arabia and the horrendous suicide attacks in Turkey are indicative of its outreach and the capability of enacting such inhuman acts designed to create chaos and instability in the targeted countries. The IS being a specific threat to peace and tranquility in the Muslim countries is also a real threat to the world peace. And probably the stage is now set for a collective action by the Muslim countries and the world powers to scuttle this threat at the global level.
The cause for forming a military alliance of Muslim countries against Daesh is beyond reproach. However, one thing noteworthy is that it is an alliance of Sunni states only. Syria and Iraq where Daesh has heavy presence and Iran which is supportive of the two former states in their fight against Daesh, are not part of the alliance. That makes the matters quite complicated. It would have been an ideal situation if those states had also joined the alliance.
How the alliance forces would fight Daesh threat in the Middle Eastern countries like Syria and Iraq will not be known until a proper blue print of the entire plan and the modalities to operate against Daesh in other countries is unraveled. But one thing is certain that any military action by the alliance against Daesh in other countries can have very serious consequences unless it is undertaken under the umbrella of UN.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are beyond the realm of normal diplomatic ties. It is a very special relationship. Saudi Arabia has always been there to help Pakistan in times of crisis and given generous assistance to Pakistan for development purposes. Saudi leadership is held in the highest esteem by Pakistan and its people. Pakistan has also shown unqualified support for the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia and made a strong commitment to send its troops to Saudi Arbia if ever there was a threat to its security. However, it has taken a principled stand that its forces could not participate in any military adventure against another country without UN mandate if ever such a situation arose. It took this stance during Yemen Crisis. It particularly has refrained from taking sides in disputes between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In a recent row between the two countries over the execution of a Shia religious scholar by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan because of its relations with both Saudia Arabia and Iran played a role of a mediator. Both the Prime Minister and COAS visited Saudi Arabia and Iran to defuse the tensions. Hopefully, Pakistan, if it decides to be part of the proposed military alliance, would stick to its principled stand not to land its troops in any other country except under the UN authorised campaigns.