Phan­tom Al­liance

The Saudi-led al­liance of Mus­lim na­tions called the Is­lamic Mil­i­tary Al­liance to Fight Ter­ror­ism com­manded by Pak­istan’s re­tired army chief, Gen. (R) Ra­heel Sharif, seems to be go­ing nowhere be­cause it does not have a clear agenda so far.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

The Mil­i­tary Al­liance

of Is­lamic coun­tries that Pak­istan’s former Army Chief of Staff is com­mand­ing still does not

have a clear agenda.

Gen (R) Ra­heel Sharif is now in Saudi Ara­bia to lead the Is­lamic Mil­i­tary Al­liances. It was in 2015 when it, it dawned on King Sal­man of Saudi Ara­bia that, as Khadim al Har­main al Shar­i­fain it de­volved upon him to lead the ummah in its fight against ter­ror­ism. This led to the found­ing of the Is­lamic Mil­i­tary Al­liance to Fight Ter­ror­ism (IMAFT) with 39 out of the 57 OIC mem­bers in the first in­stance. More coun­tries have joined, since, but quite a few, in­clud­ing Malaysia, are still out.

The coali­tion is en­vis­aged to serve as a plat­form for se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing pro­vi­sion of train­ing, equip­ment and troops and in­volve­ment of re­li­gious schol­ars for deal­ing with ex­trem­ism.

The an­nounce­ment that the Saudi govern­ment had forged a coali­tion to co­or­di­nate and sup­port mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions against ter­ror­ism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan, sur­prised many coun­tries, be­cause the name of Pak­istan which is said to be the nurs­ery of ter­ror­ism, was ini­tially not in­cluded in it.

How­ever, the most note­wor­thy fea­ture about the Al­liance is that to date, all mem­bers are coun­tries with Sunni-dom­i­nated gov­ern­ments. It does not in­clude any coun­try with a Shia govern­ment, such as Iran, Iraq and Syria. As for Iran, it has al­ready ex­pressed its reser­va­tions re­gard­ing the Al­liance, be­cause, it had not been ex­tended an of­fer to join the coali­tion. This pol­icy of keep­ing Shia ma­jor­ity coun­tries out of the pro­posed Al­liance gives it the look of a Sunni or­gan­i­sa­tion, in which Shias would have no role, and makes it con­tro­ver­sial.

The Al­liance is be­ing touted as the “Is­lamic NATO.” But, NATO is based

on the con­cept of col­lec­tive de­fence “whereby its mem­ber states agree to mu­tual de­fence in re­sponse to an at­tack by any ex­ter­nal party.” More­over, it com­prises a com­pact group of coun­tries.

The IMAFT, by con­trast, is “of­fen­sive” in its na­ture, be­cause, it pro­poses to go af­ter ter­ror­ists in­stead of pro­vid­ing a col­lec­tive de­fence against ter­ror­ist at­tack and its mem­bers are scat­tered far and wide over two con­ti­nents, from Gabon and Guinea in Africa, to Malaysia and In­done­sia in Asia.

But more im­por­tantly, IMAFT’s goal to fight ter­ror­ism is vague. How would ter­ror­ism be de­fined and who will be des­ig­nated ter­ror­ists by the Al­liance, needs need to be clearly ex­plained. It would re­quire spe­cial care to avoid any am­bi­gu­ity and ar­rive at a con­sen­sus def­i­ni­tion, given Saudi Ara­bia’s seething ha­tred against Iran and the Shias. For in­stance, would the Houthis of Ye­men, who are Shia, be treated as rebels against their govern­ment, or ter­ror­ists? If they are de­fined as rebels they would be the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Ye­men govern­ment. But if they are des­ig­nated as ter­ror­ists, then the Is­lamic NATO would come into ac­tion. Be­sides, ter­ror­ism is a prob­lem only for a few Mus­lim coun­tries. Oth­ers all over the world are free from this menace.

Opin­ions also dif­fer about who is a ter­ror­ist. His­tory is wit­ness to the fact that those whom one group de­nounces as ter­ror­ists, are he­roes for an­other group - such as the Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army and the Jewish Ir­gun and Stern Gang. Ir­gun cadres were even ab­sorbed in the Is­raeli De­fence Forces in 1948 af­ter the coun­try was founded. And nearer home, while In­dia de­nounced the at­tack­ers of its army camps across the bor­der from Pak­istan as ter­ror­ists, Pak­istan con­sid­ers them as free­dom fight­ers. Ar­riv­ing at a con­sen­sus def­i­ni­tion would there­fore, be a mega chal­lenge.

Mean­while, Pak­istan’s re­tired army chief, Gen. Ra­heel Sharif has been ap­pointed the first chief of the “Is­lamic NATO” af­ter the govern­ment of Pak­istan gave its nod.

Saudi Re­li­gious Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sheikh Saleh bin Ab­dul Aziz, ad­dress­ing a pub­lic meet­ing dur­ing the cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Is­lam (F), hailed the Pak­istan-Saudi Ara­bia mil­i­tary al­liance is a “vic­tory of Is­lam” whose main ob­jec­tive was the “re­nais­sance of Is­lam.” But how fight­ing ter­ror­ism, which is the main ob­jec­tive of the IAMFT, can be equated with the “re­nais­sance of Is­lam” de­fies com­mon sense.

Many de­tails are still to be made pub­lic, such as the quan­tum of men each mem­ber will con­trib­ute. One colum­nist pic­tures Ra­heel Sharif, (the Chief of the Al­liance), “go­ing from one Mus­lim cap­i­tal to the next, ask­ing for firm com­mit­ments on troops, planes and ships. There will be much solemn nod­ding of heads among his hosts be­fore a litany of ex­cuses is trot­ted out. They will then ask for Saudi aid to buy new weapons.”

The ap­point­ment of Gen Sharif as the leader of the mil­i­tary al­liance has not been pop­u­lar in Pak­istan. It has sparked de­bate over how the move will im­pact Pak­istan's for­eign pol­icy in gen­eral and par­tic­u­larly its re­la­tions with its close neigh­bour, Iran. No won­der, PTI has de­cided to sub­mit a res­o­lu­tion in the Na­tional Assem­bly against Pak­istan’s de­ci­sion to join the Saudi-led Is­lamic mil­i­tary al­liance and ap­point­ment of Gen­eral Ra­heel Sharif as its head. Imran Khan’s move is prompted by the ap­pre­hen­sion that Pak­istan openly em­brac­ing the Saudis might im­peril PakIran re­la­tions.

How­ever, de­spite the Saudi hoopla, an­a­lysts do not put much store by the so­called Is­lamic NATO, pri­mar­ily be­cause it lacks the urge that had brought the mem­bers of NATO on a com­mon plat­form in Europe.

They re­call that, “start­ing from the de­feat in­flicted by Is­raeli sol­diers and guer­ril­las on the com­bined Arab armies in 1948, to the mil­i­tary hu­mil­i­a­tions of 1956, 1967 and 1973, Arab gen­er­als and sol­diers have not ex­actly cov­ered them­selves in glory.”

Po­lit­i­cally, too, Mus­lim co­op­er­a­tion re­mains a dis­ap­point­ment. “The Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Is­lamic Co­op­er­a­tion has been blun­der­ing around like a zom­bie for years and has achieved noth­ing. It is a crea­ture of the Saudis. It pro­vides a sinecure for re­tired Mus­lim politi­cians and makes an oc­ca­sional empty dec­la­ra­tion. It has done noth­ing to help the Pales­tini­ans, Kash­miris and the Ro­hingyas. Wars and quar­rels be­tween Mus­lim states fes­ter on with­out the OIC tak­ing a po­si­tion.”

So, with all these splits and in­ac­tion, there are se­ri­ous doubts that the new Saudi-led al­liance will do any bet­ter. Lack of en­thu­si­asm is ev­i­dent from the fact that two years have elapsed since the Al­liance was launched yet it has not yet taken off.

Nonethe­less it is an am­bi­tious pro­gramme which will be watched by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity with keen in­ter­est. It would be too early to pass any judg­ment un­til the Al­liance takes a clear shape and starts func­tion­ing.

For the present, there­fore, Ra­heel Sharif will be the chief of a phan­tom le­gion, chill­ing out in Riyadh with­out hav­ing to do any fight­ing any time soon.

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