Persisting or not with the Islamic Military Alliance

Daily: Pakistan Today
Date: 23.11.17

Perhaps, the world is witnessing the Middle East (ME) version of the NATO in the 41-nation
Islamic Military Alliance (IMA) formed in December 2015 against the menace of terrorism
ravaging Islamic countries. The IMA is about to hold the first meeting of its members states
(represented through their respective Defence Ministers), under the theme “Allied against
Terrorism,” in Riyadh, on November 26.

Another aim of the IMA formation was to provide an institutional platform for assemblage of
the like-minded countries against terrorism within the framework of fields of military,
intellectual, media and curbing terrorism financing. The IMA calls itself a coalition in addition
to coalitions existing in the world against terrorism. That is, the IMA is around to add
something more to prevalent international efforts against terrorism. Against his background,
the aim of the forthcoming IMA meeting is to consolidate bonds of cooperation and
integration within the coalition. Does this mean that after two years the IMA is facing the
crisis of unity in terms of cooperation and integration? The answer is in the positive. There
are two reasons for that.

First, the conflict in the ME, which brought the region to today’s pass, is the legacy of the
conflict between Iraq and the US-UK coalition in the post-2001 era. Apparently, the IMA was
instituted to set off the effects insidiously affecting the normal tenor of life of the Arabs. In
the ME, there is a heavy political presence of the Arab League but the League failed to
intervene in the crisis leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The League could have
negotiated a deal between Saddam Hussain of Iraq and the US-UK coalition; The League
knew of the fate of any conflict as happened in the first Gulf War in 1990-1991. Generally,
the Arabs did not persuade Iraq to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency,
if not to locate the weapons of mass destruction, to understand where the missing drums of
chemicals were present when the import invoice was signifying their arrival. The
unaccounted-for drums of chemicals, which are still missing, were the major justification for
the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Consequently, the sectarian balance got disturbed in Iraq and
this imbalance is still spilling over into proximate countries such as Syria to create a crisis
inviting an armed conflict. In a way, the IMA is readying itself for neutralizing the adverse
effects of the inaction of the Arabs in 2003. That is why the IMA knows that its non-Arab
Islamic member countries may respect the Arabs but they may not stand by them in the
hour of crisis. For instance, on the request of Saudi Arabia, when the Pakistan government
sought approval from Parliament to send its troops to Yemen, the request was turned down
unanimously. Through a joint resolution on April 10, 2015, both the National Assembly and
the Senate asked the Pakistan government to stay neutral, though both houses reiterated
their resolve to protect the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia. Similarly, even after the
joining of Pakistan’s ex-Army Chief General Raheel Sharif as Commander-in-Chief of the
IMA in January 2017, Pakistan is still in search of the terms of engagement, as confessed
by the adviser to former prime minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, in Senate, in July
2017.

Second, the recent source of disturbance in the ME is the post-2009 wave of democracy
sweeping across the region and jolting one country after the other. Though reluctantly,
some countries have embraced democracy and some have introduced changes into their
politico-legal systems to accommodate the voice of dissent and award some human rights
to their citizens. The problem with this kind of beginning is that it has no end; the beginning
keeps on demanding the end. This is why the turmoil is bound to linger on. There is
another dimension of this issue. When the Arab commoners visit the West (both Europe
and the US), they get mesmerized with the technological development that took place under
democracy. Interestingly, the Arab elite crave to live and invest in the West but decline to
bring along the gift of democracy. The pro-democracy thought has gone so strong that a
counter-narrative is required to stifle the voice. Failure to do so has offered a justification to
one Arab country to promote militancy in a neigbouring country against pro-democratic
groups and vice versa. The primary target of the Islamic militants, be they al-Qaeda or ISIS,
are those demanding democracy in the ME. The ruling regimes are their secondary targets.
Every Arab country, even within the Sunni domain, has been found turning Islamic militants
against pro-democratic groups and ruling regimes of other Arab countries. The deliberate
effort to do so has divided and subdivided the ME internally and the effort of papering over
the rifts through the IMA offers a fleeting solution meant for failure in the long run. Instead
of using any Arab platform to resolve the ME issues, non-Arab countries have been invited
(or entreated) to join the IMA in the name of combating terrorism wrecking primarily the ME.
This is like compounding the issue further.

Generally speaking, one of the reasons for the Arab world quickly resorting to an armed
conflict is that the region remained devoid of the system of democracy (to accommodate
dissent) and democratic norms (to resolve an issue). This is why Pakistan has been
treading water. In its interaction with democracy and understanding the boundaries of
democratic norms, Pakistan is at least a century ahead of the countries of the ME chanting
and declaiming the word democracy now.

Pakistan has failed to understand that the IMA offers no solution for the ills of the ME. By
joining the IMA, whether or agreed terms of reference or not, Pakistan is retrogressing.
Religious bigotry permeating politico-social domains of the Arab world is bound to visit upon
Pakistan spoiling peace and harmony in Pakistan. General Raheel Sharif took an indiscreet
step to join the IMA; he was not stopped from joining the IMA because the Pakistan
government’s reluctance to offend the army, given the internal political turmoil the
government was beset with. The visit of Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa to Tehran
cannot allay the fears of Iran about Pakistan’s involvement in any intra-Arab feud. Similarly,
the ISIS which is almost absent in Pakistan may rear its head.

What Pakistan cannot afford is to please Saudi Arabia at the expense of annoying Iran and
vice versa. The compulsion with US President Donald Trump to encourage the IMA is two
pronged: first, to earn financial benefits by selling weapons; and second, to snub Iran under
one ruse or the other.  What Riyadh and Tehran are doing in Syria and Yemen through
their proxies is none of Pakistan’s business.

Pakistan can take a stance that it does not want to be party to any intra-Arab or any inter-
sectarian conflict in the ME. The mere presence of Pakistan’s army or General Raheel
Sharif within the fold of the IMA is a signal enough to indicate that Pakistan is party to the
issue. Sartaj Aziz is unjustified in saying that the presence of General Raheel Sharif with the
IMA “will not affect Pakistan’s foreign policy and will rather balance the situation”. Pakistan
has failed to understand that conflicts and wars are not arranged beforehand. Pakistan
must avail itself of this opportunity to tell the IMA of its non-availability.

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