Pakistan and the Saudi-led military coalition

Daily: Pakistan Today
Date: 30.11.17

Pakistan may be a dangerous country to live but an interesting country to study. On
November 25, through a statement, the White House reminded Pakistan of the
consequences of not detaining and charging Hafiz Saeed, who was accused of
masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The caveat was in response to a court’s decision
on November 22 to set Saeed free owing to the want of evidence, thereby ending his house
arrest imposed since January. In the statement, the White House unequivocally said that by
not cooperating Pakistan was jeopardizing its relations with the US, besides risking Pakistan’
s global reputation. The warning shows the level of mistrust that has grown between two
countries.

On November 26, Minister for Defence, Khurram Dastgir represented Pakistan at the first
meeting of Defence Ministers of Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) in
Riyadh and assured Saudi Arabia of Pakistan’s support and cooperation within the mutually
agreed framework of the IMCTC. Hitherto, Dastgir has not made public the salient features
of the framework he declared to have been mutually agreed. Nevertheless, the term
“mutually agreed” reduces the agreement to the bilateral level, which, in the current
situation, defies the concept of “coalition” having 41 Islamic countries on the panel making
the coalition a pan-Islamic coalition. Such a coalition, in its both character and objective, is
unprecedented since the end of the World War II. The same reality beckons suspicions and
causes disquiet.

Pakistan has a chequered history of jumping into coalitions and then regretting the decision
later on, be it SEATO (in 1954), SENTO (in 1955), or the War on Terror (in 2001). This time
what makes the joining deja vu is that, like in the past, it is the military nose by which
Pakistan has been pulled to join the IMCTC. Interestingly, this has happened when Pakistan
is still struggling to overcome the menace of terrorism. So far, though Pakistan is meeting
success, Pakistan has not emerged fully successful in stamping out terrorism to qualify for
offering its anti-terrorism services to other countries. It is known that there are countries
which prefer to deal with Pakistan through the army and not through the (civilian)
government, and this is the major factor plunging the innocent of this country into a turmoil.
Recently, after the war on terror launched in the wake of 9/11, this is the second coalition
Pakistan has joined. The modalities of the US-led war on terror were not known, the
modalities of the Saudi-led war on terror are also not known.

It is quite predictable that any military action taken by the IMCTC under the command of
General Raheel Sharif is bound to pass blowbacks to Pakistan. Wars disrespect
boundaries. The country is awash with fanatics. Suicide jacket was invented in Iraq after
2003, and it made its way to Pakistan through Afghanistan within one year. Al-Qaeda which
fled Pakistan a few years ago or the Daesh which is still struggling to make its presence felt
around will find leeway and justification to rear its head. One of the main problems with any
such coalition led by the military nose is that the blowback remains undifferentiating. For
instance, in case of war on terror, it was observed that though the prime target of reaction
remained the army but the retaliation was no respecter of civilians either. The army delights
in a privilege to take shelter in their cantonments but the civilian lot remains vulnerable to
attacks. Dozens of police officers have lost their lives. The state does not promise them the
same kind of financial recompenses as given to the family of army officers who sacrifice
their lives in the line of duty. In any such in-house conflict, civilians offer a two-pronged
sacrifice: first, afford taxes to pay the cost of war; and second, afford the sacrifice of their
lives and property for being open to attacks.

The problem in this case is that General Raheel Sharif technically bypassed the Pakistan
government to join the coalition. Initially, it was told that he joined in his personal capacity
but then the whole army stood by him and with that the Pakistan government too. In
principle, the government of Saudi Arabia should have contacted the Pakistan government
to enquire about its willingness and in the case of an affirmative response the Saudi
government could have asked the Pakistan government to suggest a few names from the
retired lot of army generals. However, this procedure was circumvented. The tragedy is that
General Raheel Sharif also did not bother to follow this procedure. In fact, Pakistan’s
parliament was skirted in both selecting its army man and joining the coalition. The primary
motive of Pakistan’s joining the coalition is that the army has joined it through its retired
general. If General Raheel Sharif had joined the coalition his private capacity as a retired
general, there would have been no left need for the Prime Minister, Defence Minister,
Foreign Minister, Chief of Army Staff and DG ISI to attend the IMCTC conference of Minister
of Defence Council in Riyadh on November 27.

On the terrorism front, during his tenure, General Raheel Sharif did not do anything special
or profound to be considered an expert at terrorism eradication. Moreover, the anti-
terrorism experience of General Raheel Sharif is related to the war on terror in the context
of Pakistan. No such war on terror has been going on nor have its reactions been
experienced in Saudi Arabia, where the history and culture of peace and war are entirely
different.

Disturbance in the Middle East (ME) rocking one country or another is essentially a post-
2010 phenomenon when the US forces were leaving Iraq under the US-Iraq Status of
Forces Agreement (SOFA) and the Arab Spring was taking birth in Tunisia. The
concomitance of these two major events destabilized the ME subsequently. Both the events
contributed significantly to the destabilization of Syria and its losing territory to the Daesh
(from neighbouring Iraq) to outclass al-Qaeda and the ilk by April 2013 and declare an
Islamic Caliphate in June 2014. How can General Raheel Sharif manage this
destabilization? His presence is bound to irk all those who are having stakes in Iraq and
Syria. Interestingly, both the US and Russia are also present in Syria but they have failed to
stabilize the country and the region. What extra and special General Raheel Sharif is to do
is not known?

The point is simple: instead of taking care of the ME affairs, Pakistan should take care of
itself. In the ME, Pakistan is yet to be embroiled in a conflict which is avoidable. Back home,
Pakistanis are still grappling with the reality of war on terror, which was first against al-
Qaeda and is now against the Taliban. The warning issued by the White House needs to be
taken seriously. Pakistan needs to put its house in order instead of poking nose into the
affairs of other countries. Any conflict in the ME involving Pakistan army, whether serving or
retired army men, is bound to invite a repercussion. Pakistanis have suffered a lot from the
counter reaction of the US-led war on terror and they are not ready for any new backlash
coming in any form from the ME.

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