New Age Islam Edit Bureau
December 18, 2015
Will Pakistan ever learn?
By Mehr Tarar
San Bernardino and Islamophobia
Abdur Rahman Chowdhury
One year after the Peshawar massacre
Syed Kamran Hashmi
A case for a persecuted people
Zeeba T Hashmi
Re-drawing the lands of Syria and Iraq
Ali Rauf Jaswal
Pakistan and the Saudi-led coalition
Zushan Ahmad Hashmi
Will Pakistan ever learn?
By Mehr Tarar
Published: December 17, 2015
The writer is a former op-ed editor of the Daily Times and a freelance columnist. She is author of the book Leaves From Lahore. She can be reached on twitter @MehrTarar
The 147 martyrs of Army Public School, Peshawar became the face of that one day when Pakistan saw the worst, the most horrific, most terrifying attack in its history. The December 16, 2014 massacre changed Pakistan in a way never seen before, as the country mourned its children, school staff and army personnel. The tragedy of APS defies words, defies comprehension: to watch humanity sink, so low that one is at a loss of words… why do human beings do what they do?
Much has been said, and much has been done after the December 16, 2014 tragedy. Pakistan stood stunned beyond belief, but united as it saw its heart being broken, its soul being attacked. The 147 graves of the APS martyrs jolted Pakistan out of its apathetic existence, as the sheer enormity of what had happened sank in, with the wails of 147 families piercing minds that had become accustomed to reading reports of guns and bombs wreaking terror all over Pakistan. The National Action Plan, endorsed by the civilian and military leaderships, came into implementation, as the security dynamics were strengthened, military courts were formed with parliamentary agreement, the moratorium on capital punishment was lifted, and vows were made to eliminate terrorism at all costs. So far, so good.
December 16, 2015 came around, and the whole of Pakistan observed the first anniversary of the APS tragedy. As Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif attended the memorial at APS Peshawar, throughout Pakistan, prayers, vigils and memorial ceremonies were held and there was non-stop media coverage. We will not forget and we will not forgive. The collective emotion of Pakistanis on December 16, 2015 was reflected in sombre expressions and very solemn words. The vow to fight terrorism was reiterated, as photographs of the young martyrs of APS were seen all over Pakistan, with heavy hearts and moistened eyes.
While the hangings of convicted terrorists continue — some labelling this a kneejerk reaction to a very complex issue, also raising concerns among anti-capital punishment organisations — incidents of terror are on the decline, a very positive development. Also heard is the constant reiteration of vows to destroy the funding, training and movement of militants throughout Pakistan. There is no distinction of good or bad terrorism: another much-uttered statement from the civilian and military leaderships. The massacre of children and unarmed adults is taken as a sacrifice that jolted an apathetic nation to sit up. While much has changed after December 16, 2014, not much has changed in Pakistan circa December 16, 2015.
The fundamental issue remains unchallenged: that of indoctrination; that of radicalisation; that of incitement of hatred against the ‘wrong kind of Muslims’ and non-Muslims; that of the lesson of extremism; and that of training the young to become killing machines. Nothing will change in the fight against terrorism unless there is enough courage, enough pragmatism, and enough far-sightedness to look at the real picture — the picture of a Pakistan where madrassas are used as institutions to impart lessons of hate, narrow-mindedness and bigotry. Where mosque pulpits are used to incite violence against ‘infidels’ — be they within Pakistan or outside. Where religion is used as a weapon to wage ‘holy war’ on Hindus, Jews and all who appear to be in opposition to the extremist. Where banned organisations rebrand themselves, avowing annihilation of the ‘enemy’, using young Pakistanis for their purpose of creating mayhem outside of Pakistan. Where the indoctrinated youth turn rogue and kill their own. Where religion is used to wage wars to perpetuate vested interests and agendas of hegemony. Where the Hindu population has dwindled to almost being non-existent in most parts of the country. Where Christians live under perpetual fear of persecution, camouflaged under legal injunctions. Where Ahmadis are labelled pariahs by the Constitution, their places of worship and workplaces torched, their entry into shopping arcades banned. Where doctors, social workers, human rights activists, polio vaccination teams, teachers and journalists are killed in the name of doing good for Pakistan. Where no rules of engagement exist, and no life is sacred. Where people are killed as they kneel to pray in mosques, churches and imambargahs. And where children are shot in the head at point-blank range.
There is no closure for those who lose their loved ones to an act of terror; there is no commiseration that balms the pain. Whether it is New York, London, Paris, Nairobi, Bali, Bangkok, Kabul, Mumbai or Peshawar, the pain of losing a loved one to terror is the same. Then why the differentiation between ‘their’ pain and ‘ours’? Till how long will we continue to compartmentalise terror? Till how long will we continue to employ selective justice? The 147 martyrs of APS will only really rest in peace if we do the following: look within. And act. Now. And save Pakistan from… Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2015.
San Bernardino and Islamophobia
Abdur Rahman Chowdhury
December 18, 2015
The assassination of 14 young men and women in San Bernardino, California on December 2, 2015 has sent shockwaves all over the US and beyond. Rizwan Farooq and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, chose to kill the same people with whom Farooq had worked for a long time. Farooq and his wife were invited to a work party, which they turned into a killing field. As expected, the police launched a massive search to unearth the motive behind the murders. They raided the house where the killers lived and found a large stock of deadly weapons, some not meant for use by civilians. The police disclosed that the weapons had been purchased legally by someone else and then delivered to the couple. Hours before the shooting, the assassins left their six-month-old baby daughter in the custody of her grandmother.
The following day, the Muslim community in San Bernardino denounced the killing in unequivocal terms. They termed the episode as cruel and reiterated that Islam does not sanction the killing of neighbours regardless of their faith, colour and traditions. Last weekend they assembled in a hospital and donated blood for the injured in the attack. Muslims living in other parts of the country condemned the killing in the strongest possible language and asked Muslim community members to cooperate with the police in case of suspicious behaviour or incidents in the neighbourhood.
Since the San Bernardino tragedy there has been a renewed debate about Muslims’ relations with the west. Some posed questions on why Muslims are involved in terrorism, others attributed the unrest that has shaken the Middle East and has posed a danger to the west and the unjust Iraq invasion. The invasion resulted in the deaths of around a million Iraqis and over 100,000 severely wounded, apart from colossal damage to infrastructure. Around six million Iraqis became internally displaced and the Sunni population alienated. The Islamic State (IS) leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, reportedly spent a few years in Basra prison, witnessing the torture and death of fellow prisoners. These narratives are genuine yet they do not provide a rendition for the killings of innocent civilians.
The Iraq invasion took the lives of over 4,400 American soldiers. Another 30,000 marines were injured, many of who will never return to a normal life. The families of the fallen and wounded soldiers have the right to demand the trial of those responsible for dragging the country into a war that took the lives of their near and dear ones. The trials and indictments of the perpetrators will bring some comfort to aggrieved families in the US and in Iraq.
IS has killed more Muslims than non-Muslims, enslaved Muslim women and destroyed ancient treasures in Iraq and Syria. Even if its combat troops are estimated at 30,000, it is still insignificant compared to the 1.6 billion Muslim population. How is it justified to put the entire community in the dock? Every episode is terrible in its own way: 23 schoolchildren were gunned down in Sandy Hook, a dozen movie patrons in Aurora were killed by a gun man, innocent churchgoers in Charleston were killed by brush fire. A Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado was attacked and the doctor on duty was killed, and in all these incidents the assassins were White Christians. No one came out branding the murderers Christian terrorists or demanding the White Christian community make loud condemnations of the incidents. Why is there a double standard in the case of San Bernardino? Terrorists are neither Christian nor Jewish nor Islamist — they are criminals.
The Times of India reported that about 70,000 Muslim clerics assembled at the South Asian Sunni Muslims annual meeting in Uttar Pradesh last week and issued a fatwa against the Taliban, al Qaeda and IS. About a million endorsed a document that stated, “This terror group (IS) has killed far more Muslims than Christians, westerners or any other religious community. It is a terror group with political ambitions.” The chairman of the gathering said that the attacks in Paris had inspired clerics to pass the fatwa in order to spread the message that Muslims condemn terrorism. Muslim clerics in the US and Europe should do the same.
Muslims comprise less than one percent of the US population. They are hardworking, law-abiding citizens and the majority belong to the low-income group. They do not have the luxury to donate to radical groups nor buy guns from the stores. If they are left with savings, they invest in real estate or in small business. They are striving to assimilate in the mainstream of western society, which is evident from their enrollment in government services. According to the Pentagon, over 6,000 Muslims are serving the armed forces and many were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan; 14 were killed in action and buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Immediately after the San Bernardino tragedy, Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” He also suggested a database for Muslims in order to track their activities and close down the mosques. President Obama dismissed the proposal as “un-American and something that stands against everything that we stand for”. The mainstream media has condemned Trump for his divisive policy. But Trump is not alone in the anti-Muslim rhetoric. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and Rand Paul conveyed a similar message in different words.
The war against terrorism cannot be won by alienating the Muslims. Obama said the Muslims are our neighbours and friends, and their cooperation was needed. He also said, “We have a no-fly list where people cannot get on planes. But these same people can go into a store right now in the US and buy a firearm, and there is nothing we can do to stop them. The law needs to be changed.” Trump’s rhetoric is not inconsequential. A 12-year-old girl in New York was beaten and her hijab nearly torn. A shop owner in Queens was attacked by a man shouting, “I will kill Muslims.” Rocks were thrown through the window of a family in Plano, Texas. A pig’s head was found in a mosque’s premises in Philadelphia. Some patients in a Texas hospital refused to be treated by Muslim doctors. Even a marine reported how he had been ignored by his fellow comrades. This is a small sampling of recent hate crimes against the Muslims. In this new height of hate crimes against the Muslims Martin O’Malley, a presidential hopeful, and a group of Congressmen visited mosques in Virginia and expressed solidarity with the Muslims.
Americans have now two options: they can alienate the Muslims, ban their entry, freeze the issuance of new visas and keep them under surveillance. Gradually, they will be marginalised and a good number of them will slide into poverty. This is exactly the trajectory IS has outlined for them. Trump and the hardliners are falling into the IS trap.
The other option is to promote the assimilation of Muslims into the mainstream of society, accelerate their participation in government services, including the armed forces, and let them be stakeholders in nation building. Muslim youth born and raised here love only this country, the US. Now make the choice.
Abdur Rahman Chowdhury is a former official of the United Nations
One year after the Peshawar massacre
Syed Kamran Hashmi
December 18, 2015
Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise; the Peshawar school massacre snapped the Pakistani nation awake from its slumber, jolting it out of the apathy that had been built over the years with regards to the victims of the attacks who were even stopped from being seen as human beings in the minds of the people and were just reduced to mere numbers associated with each incidence.
Five died in Quetta one day, 20 in Peshawar on another, followed by 30 in Lahore. Bomb blasts took place everywhere at regular intervals with impunity and without the fear of any retaliation from the state, which slept with its large, well-trained military and a powerful, ubiquitous spy agency. As ironic as it may sound, the truth was that the only place safe in those days was not Islamabad or Rawalpindi, not even the GHQ, rather it was Miran Shah in the North Waziristan Agency!
People assumed that they could win over the hearts and minds of the extremists through negotiations and that everything would return to normal once the US withdrew from Afghanistan. True, the army under the current leadership (as opposed to the previous one) hit back after every assault with aerial bombings on terror hideouts and had already set foot in North Waziristan after the failure of the federal government’s initiative to resume talks. The nation, however, did not seem to have grasped a clear picture of who its enemy indeed was, whether they were freedom fighters, mujahideen, revolutionists or some rogue criminals, members of violent sectarian outfits or pure psychopaths. The pendulum of opinion swung to both sides, sometimes skewed more towards the former and at other times inching towards the latter.
Religious parties, out of their blatant anti-US stance or because of their past associations with ‘comrades’ called terrorists freedom fighters — as if by killing Pakistanis they were liberating Afghanistan. Some misguided politicians joined them too and blamed the drone attacks — through them the US — as the only reason for the escalating insurgency. To my surprise, the news media, instead of educating the nation and sharing the actual situation with it, just fostered the confusion to grow deeper. The establishment was probably busy smoking cigarettes or maybe using its mighty muscle to get another extension. A fog of mass confusion enveloped the whole country blinding its people from seeing the reality that extremism had gained roots in society and that the evil of religious intolerance was spreading, creeping into the educated middle class.
The Peshawar incident swept every bit of confusion away from people’s minds leaving them with, for the first time, not fear of the mujahideen or the ‘holy warriors’, but anger and rage. It compelled them to stop being cowardly, to stand up against the terrorists — if not for themselves then at least for their children — and initiate a comprehensive operation against the barbarians who, by killing children, had stooped to the lowest levels of humanity, an act of pure savagery.
Calling it a grave tragedy does not suffice what went through people’s minds that day, their faces darkened, hearts wrestling to tear open their rib cages. It felt as though someone had knocked them to the ground, their hands and legs tied, slit their throats, ripped open their chests, yanked out their hearts and sliced them into pieces with a blunt knife, every piece representing a child.
Looking at the people’s response, anyone who has ever assisted or supported a terrorist organization — what to talk about planning or financing — should have faced the law, the army courts, an expedited trial and even capital punishment. If he resists the agencies, execution should take place at the place of arrest, no questions asked. In other words, the people provided the military with full legal authority and political support to arrest or kill anyone, anywhere in the country upon suspicion of terrorist activities. They hoped the administration would rain down on the sectarian outfits like a spewing machine gun. But what people noticed was that the action against them was more or less like a trickle, drop by drop, a leader killed here and the other one arrested there. In no way, that action could be compared to how the military proceeded in Karachi against the MQM.
This has been the concern all along. But no one seems to know the answer. At best, they say they do not want to stretch their forces too thin. Sure, but is that an explanation? In the absence of a good response, gossip has erupted and conspiracy theories have been concocted. People talk about the establishment’s plans of a different nature. They explain the reason these groups still exist with their intact infrastructure is to persuade them to keep the focus of their ‘activities’ once again on neighbouring countries.
I hope these rumours, despite the rise of the Taliban, are not true because irrespective of what goes on in Afghanistan and Indian-held Kashmir, it needs to be made clear to the people in power that the children who died in the Army Public School (APS) technically are still alive, watching us. Any policy that supports religious extremism, one way or another, whether it is to secure a foreign policy objective in the east or to create a friendly Afghanistan to the west, will be a great disservice to them and to their parents. The nation stands behind its institutions to root out radicalism once and forever. They realise the ‘good’ Taliban can turn bad anytime and wreak havoc throughout the country. So, it is the patriotic duty of every officer to provide the nation with what they have promised in return. Any deviation from that is not acceptable and is unpatriotic.
Syed Kamran Hashmi is a US-based freelance columnist.
A case for a persecuted people
Zeeba T Hashmi
A campaign that strategically ignites the collective sentiment of hate is not dangerous because it puts another individual or group under direct threat, but because it is something that cannot be undone, even if the authorities have finally woken up to its uncontrolled menace. Such a case is true for the recent tirade of Ahmedi persecution ranging from hate speech to actual violence meted out to them. On November 20, 2015, a factory in Jehlum was set on fire by scores of people with the intention of burning the factory workers alive who were present in the building. Luckily, the workers managed to escape the fire. A heavy contingent of police was called to control the mob but not a single arsonist was arrested. Instead, the police arrested three employees without reason just to appease the crowd. All the rage, as some believe, was because the factory was owned by an Ahmedi family, which is enough for hardliners to target them for their faith, considered heretic by mainstream Muslims. The next day, a place of worship belonging to the Ahmedi community was also set ablaze. Not a single person was taken to task despite the army being called into the city to control the situation. These incidents sent a wave of fear among the persecuted community and they all fled Jehlum to save their lives. There was no protection provided to them, something they desperately needed.
One is reminded of the Lahore blast at an Ahmedi mosque in 2010 that killed about 100 worshippers. The terrorist attack was praised and celebrated by some who consider the entire community to be wajibul qatal (liable for death). There have also been unconfirmed reports of attempts to attack the secluded localities of Ahmedis, forcing many to flee the country for the sake of a protected future.
On December 13, a shopkeeper put up a message on the door of his shop in Hafeez Centre in Lahore stating that Qaidianis and dogs were not allowed to enter his shop. The authorities took notice of this poster and held Abid Hashmi, the shop owner, in custody under the National Action Plan (NAP) for spreading hatred. However, the concern of the authorities was only short-lived as Abid Hashmi was released after traders from Hafeez Centre held a protest. Abid Hashmi was garlanded and praised for his ‘heroism’ for calling Ahmedis dogs. The shopkeepers of Hafeez Centre, in their persistence of hate, have put up even bigger posters calling on the state to make Ahmedis wear their religious identity, calling for their apartheid. Strikingly, other such hateful posters were also posted on the fence of the centre on the day marking the first anniversary of Army Public School (APS) massacre.
Some citizens are concerned and are planning protest on their own to register a voice against this bigotry but, unfortunately, they are unable to carry out their message in an organised manner because no political organisation is ready to take up this cause for the sake of their politics of appeasement to the religious parties. Those individuals brave enough to confront the haters are left vulnerable to the danger of possible violent backlash, as the police seem completely unable to facilitate them. On the other hand, the authorities provide full cooperation to the hate mongers who keep on campaigning and inciting violence without any obstacle.
There has been no action whatsoever against religious organisations that are directly engaged in threatening and targeting Ahmedis. The World Tuhafiz Khatme Nabuwat Council of Lahore collaborates with the Shubban-e-Khatme Nabuwat to produce names and addresses of prominent Ahmadis, which becomes public to anyone who wants to target and malign them. There are about 10 such organisations that are working with other religious organisations to spread hate against them, yet none of these organisations is on the list of proscribed organisations issued by the government. The authorities are well aware of their activities but do not dare touch them. The NAP, which prohibits the spread of hate material, seems ineffective in curbing this mushrooming trend.
This hate filled campaign of religious hardliners and extremists appears to be quite successful. Society in general, with mainstream Muslims, has become extremely intolerant towards Ahmedis and persistently calls for their social apartheid. The resultant exodus of the constitutionally disenfranchised community, including educated and professional individuals, is causing serious economic repercussions to the fabric of Pakistan. While we decry India over its extremist rage, we fail to see our own streak of bigotry, which is so openly praised and encouraged as to scare the minorities away and disallow them from functioning as equal citizens of this country. In all this ‘Islamic nationalism’, one tends to forget what Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, said in 1944: “Ahmedis are Muslims if they say they are Muslims and no one, not even the sovereign legislature, has the right to say otherwise.”
This is a case of people who have been ousted from the circle of Islam for their beliefs. The religious belief of the mainstream is problematic anywhere if it is based on sheer judgmental notations, to the point of murdering the other for keeping their own faith. The only solution to religious bigotry is that issues of faith be kept private and left between man and God, not between man and state.
Re-drawing the lands of Syria and Iraq
Ali Rauf Jaswal
The state of civil unrest in Syria, as a consequence of anti-government protests, started due to the Arab Spring. At its initial phase it transformed into a civil war, then into a proxy war with the indirect involvement of regional actors and might soon turn out to be a conventional war with the recent direct escalation from global state actors in this mix. Simultaneously with Syria, the situation in Iraq is also becoming more and more atrocious and awful with each passing day.
The growing militancy, massive refugee displacement, unpopular and incompetent governments, endless polarisation and crumbling economies are the core traits of Muslim states and, with the latest political crises within Muslim countries, there is a major conflict expanding across the region. The main catastrophe in this scenario is a lack of realisation throughout the Muslim world, while the global powerbrokers are stretching their legs in this crisis to yield maximum profits.
The Arab Spring episode brought a paradigm shift in the political landscape of the Middle Eastern region. The unrest that started from Tunisia moved towards Algeria, Jordan, Oman, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Iraq, Mauritania, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain and Palestine, and created a state of uncertainty and chaos along with a political vacuum that has led to the development of armed insurgencies in the whole region. Social media played a key role in the Arab Spring. It introduced altogether new political trending and the fact that now the sphere of crises and conflicts has no boundaries — the Paris attacks are evidence of the fact.
The expansion of Islamic State (IS) in the global political scenario is undoubtedly of great importance. This phenomenon is not limited to the Middle Eastern region; its scope has stretched to every nook and corner of the international political arena. Islam versus the west chapter of Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations was initiated on a massive scale with the beginning of the US’ war on terror after 9/11 and is now at its momentous and convoluted turning point.
Starting from the US’ acquisitions in Iraq and Afghanistan to combat Islamic militancy, we saw the strong rise of Islamic radicalisation primarily in the Middle East and Pakistan, now moving on to Indonesia, Somalia, Nigeria and the horn of Africa, finally striking right at the centre of the western world with strong muscle. IS initially took advantage of the political vacuum and socio-economic disparity among the people of the Muslim world, now endeavouring to capitalise on the west’s war games in the Muslim world to exploit anti-Islamic sentiments that are erupting as a result of the counter-extremism actions that are principally taking place against Muslims in the western world, specifically in Europe after the November 13 incident.
Anti-Islam hatred and the suppressive political game plan by rightists in Europe will generate an Islam versus west narrative and will further strengthen the position of IS in the Middle East and elsewhere. This will even push moderate Muslims in the west towards IS as the perspective that the western establishment has launched a crusade in the Muslim world, especially in the Middle East, will successfully prevail.
The west needs to reinterpret its understanding of political Islam. They have to differentiate between insurgents and Islamists. Their policy of persecuting political Islam is counter-productive and creates hazards for collective peace and security. They have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of Islamist insurgents, especially IS. IS, unlike other insurgent groups, has firm control over a huge piece of land. It has up to some extent established a de facto state but this is not the only reason behind its success. It is their anti-imperialist ideology that is providing them real strength.
Chances are bright that there may be some strong reaction from IS in the Caucasus against Russian aggression in Syria, which might result in a global alliance between all the major global powers against IS. According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW): “IS includes an estimated 7,000 foreign fighters from the former Soviet Union and has declared its own governorate in Russia’s restive North Caucasus region.” Already, France and Russia have agreed to anti-IS coordinate sharing and the US is also thinking of collaborating with Russia against IS. This could turn out to be a battle between the haves and have nots as is happening in Africa. The deprived community is rapidly moving towards Boko Haram and Al-Shabab.
Therefore, it is important at this point to understand the emerging global political picture. The world’s politics are vigorously moving towards multi-polarity in which transnational actors are proving be significant stakeholders. Military operations against them are not productive; Senator Rand Paul, the most rational US presidential candidate, referred to a study conducted by Rand Corporation in 2008 called ‘How terrorist groups end’. Rand took a sample of 648 terrorist groups that had been operating between 1968 and 2006. Forty percent of conflicts were countered by the effective establishment of law through local police and intelligence agencies. Forty-three percent of the conflicts were resolved through political arrangements while military operations have only been successful in seven percent of the cases.
Hence, it is high time for the international community to look towards a political settlement of the Middle Eastern crisis. Already, Iraq and Syria have lost a large portion of their boundaries and the chances of its reversal are quite faint. The international community has to provide some sort of political recognition to insurgent groups in order to bring them to the dialogue table.
There is an urgent need for a ceasefire to contain the refugee crisis along with the Congress of Vienna to re-draw the lands of Iraq and Syria but, unlike the 19th century, before the end result of a war in Syria. The ambitions and aggression of western forces also needs to be contained together with IS. The war has moved into a decisive phase and the current battleground might incorporate the land of Libya and Sinai very soon. So it is quite difficult to predict the end game in this scenario. Keeping in mind the worst of outcomes, it is better to resolve the crisis before it is too late. In case IS gains more strength with the expansion of the conflict, there will be an altogether new balance of power politics and the restoration of the current global order will not be possible.
The writer is a research analyst at Pakistan House. He tweets at @Ali_Jaswal
Pakistan and the Saudi-led coalition
Zushan Ahmad Hashmi
As Pakistanis once again mourn and remember the victims of the horrendous attack carried out on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar last year, Saudi Arabia has announced a new ‘Muslim’ coalition, which includes 34 nations from around the globe. The Saudis aim to counter all forms of terrorism across the Muslim world through this alliance. At first glance, this certainly seems to be the picture at hand.
However, even while taking a myopic view of this development one can easily comprehend that there is a severe lack of information coming out of the Saudi camp and this has resulted in several questions being asked on what is being done and what the precise agenda behind this initiative is.
According to Saudi Arabian ministers, the coalition members, including Turkey, the Gulf monarchies and Pakistan, will share knowledge and support through training and funding, and they will also provide forces, with the possibility of ground troops, to fight the ever-growing Islamic State (IS) threat in the Middle East. However, the defence minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, has also said that the coalition states will work together to defeat “any terrorist organisation, not just IS” across several countries, including Afghanistan. Hence, I cannot help but wonder, why bring Afghanistan into the discussion when it has not even been included as a member of the coalition?
Of course, it can be argued that Afghanistan, in its current state, cannot provide training, support and funding to other coalition members, as its economy is failing and therefore it does not meet membership criteria. Yet, it still remains the biggest victim of contemporary terrorism and has constantly fought terrorist groups within its borders, unlike several other coalition members, such as Chad and Mali, who neither have the necessary economic resources nor do they possess sufficient understanding of terrorism on such a large scale. Therefore, this only leads to further confusion on what the exact basis for state inclusion in the coalition is and, if it is the aforementioned criteria, only a handful of these states, like Turkey, Pakistan and the Gulf, possess the necessary economic resources or military expertise to genuinely contribute to the ambiguous ‘goals’ of the coalition.
Furthermore, this ‘Muslim’ coalition has unsurprisingly left out Iran, Iraq and the Assad regime in Syria, presumably because of their opposition in the Syria and Iraq proxy war and their focus on Shia Islam. Yet, it has included a Yemeni regime that is currently fighting Shia Houthi rebels along with its support and has similarly included Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy, which has regularly silenced its Shia-majority population. Hence, is it truly a Muslim coalition? Or is it more suitable to refer to it as a pro-Sunni Muslim front, which aims to further fuel the sectarian divide that currently exists in the Muslim world? Or will it be the members as a whole that will eventually determine what the true purpose of the coalition is?
Even though key figures in countries such as Lebanon and Turkey have spoken about and supported this initiative, the situation in Pakistan is still clouded in uncertainty. Therefore, it is not surprising that people have begun asking what role Pakistan will be playing. According to reports, Pakistan’s inclusion has come as a surprise to people in its political circles. Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry has said that he was quite surprised by these developments and that Pakistan was not even consulted on the matter. Once again, this lack of clarity is a key predictor of what lies in store and why Pakistan should keep its distance from the coalition, as it did with the Saudi-backed alliance in Yemen
After all, it has been stressed repeatedly that Pakistan has enough worries in its own backyard, with a full-scale army assault against terrorists taking place in the FATA region under the Zarb-e-Azb banner, and the continued threat of militant attacks across the country. Therefore, can it really afford to join an alliance that seems to be focusing on conflict in the Middle East, with aims and goals that are shrouded in mystery and the risk of retaliation from Pakistan’s neighbouring nations?
The answer is quite simply no. Not in anyway is Pakistan required to support and protect other countries in wars it has nothing to do with. Therefore, until further details about the coalition unfold and a clear and concise approach is prepared, deliberated and delivered to each coalition member, it will be a wise move for the South Asian nation to steer clear of this highly complex development. For it is imperative that it focus on its own losses and struggles, while rethinking a strategy on how best to deal with its own demons.