By Samson Simon Sharaf
April 11, 2015
Despite the notion of Eurasia being the centre of the world, it is West Asia that has remained the focus of turmoil and instability in ancient and recent history. It has been in focus on strategic, economic, political, cultural, and religious fronts. The region has remained susceptible to invasions and occupations from Arabs, North Africans, Romans, Byzantines, Persians, Turks, Germans and Anglo-US forces. Arab-Persian rivalry, the influence of the Ottomans and remapping by Lawrence of Arabia left lasting fault lines. In the 20th Century, the region became the major springboard for containing USSR. Having slighted USSR, it provides the springboard for the next move.
The term Middle East was introduced by the American strategist Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan when British and Russian Empires were eyeing Central Asia in the Great Game. He theorised that besides Suez Canal, it was important to control the Persian Gulf to prevent Russians advancing to India. This theory later became Brzezinski’s Integrated Euro Asian Geo-Strategy, also called the Southern Front. Total domination meant control over West, South and Central Asia and eastward expansion of NATO. Crimea and Afghanistan are the other two edges of this triangle.
The recent instability in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen cannot be divorced from this theory. It is the vacuum created by international rivalries that has consistently made Middle East vulnerable to outside interferences. Be assured that if Anglo-US-Saudi interests in the region make a move, Russia, Iran and Turkey will not lag behind. For the past century, the British and Americans have controlled this region through pliant despotic monarchies and Israel. Socialist Egypt, Yemen, Iraq and Libya are a distant memory. Syria is under siege by Saudi, Turkish and western supported rebels most of who have morphed into Al Qaeda and ISIS. The latest thaw in US-Iran relation irks both Saudi Arabia and Israel. Hence Saudi Arabia is prepared to cooperate with Israel over Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon and launching of militants in Iraq and Syria. An Arab commentator sums up the complexity commenting:
“Sir, Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad! Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi. But Gulf states are pro-Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood! Iran is pro-Hamas, but Hamas is backing Muslim Brotherhood! Obama is backing Muslim Brotherhood, yet Hamas is against the U.S.! Gulf states are pro-U.S. But Turkey is with Gulf states against Assad; yet Turkey is pro-Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi. And General Sisi is being backed by the Gulf states! Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day.”
Invariably, Pakistan repeatedly gets sucked into this confusion due to its short strategic memory. In the early 20th Century it was the British Indian Army that provided world class rental troops to the region. After 1947, it has been Pakistan. Pakistan’s inclusion in Baghdad Pact (CENTO) and its defence cooperation with many countries in the region and USA is a continuation of this policy.
Military cooperation has resulted in dependence. Pakistan despite its structural resources is economically dependent on these Muslim monarchies that continue to get richer. Keeping Pakistan tied to this dependence at the cost of exploitation of its astronomical economic potential is an important plank of this destabilising policy. Successive Pakistani governments under strong US and Arab pressure have continued to follow this self-destructive policy. As written earlier, Pakistan has a historical propensity to unwittingly step into big power rivalries in pursuit of economic short cuts that make the temptation too lucrative to resist. Seldom do they realise that Pakistan is a pawn in the old game often lost. The instability created inside Pakistan will far outweigh any economic rewards because whatever Pakistan does will be overshadowed by the Great Game.
At the heart of this Great Game is a lesser strategy being followed on dotted lines by Sunni-Arab monarchies for their own survival. The rivalry goes back centuries. Turkey and Iran are permanently imprinted historical predispositions on the Saudi Wahhabism versus the rest. The Shia Iranians will never forget 1802 when the first Saud dynasty attacked and destroyed the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala. Their belief is reinforced by the latest Saudi positions in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Yemen. It was a joint Ottoman-Egyptian invasion in 1818 that brought the first Saudi kingdom to an end. Turks will neither forget that North Yemen inherited the Ottoman Empire nor the tragic destruction of the holy sites constructed by Turks in Mecca and Medina destroyed by the house of Saud. These countries will covertly support any group including Houthis that rise against Saudi interests. But at the end of the day it will be Persian-Turk and Saudi rivalries that shall provide space and cause for the Anglo-US Integrated Euro Asian Geo-Strategy. The danger is that it will create a Shia-Sunni divide in the entire Muslim world.
But Pakistan through a mixture of its weak and pliant policies and personal relationships is prepared to ignore history. In addition, the temptation to accept petrodollars is too tempting. This overshadows its unstable profile reflected in militant ideologies, lines of funding supported by Saudi Arabia and Arab Kingdoms and prosecution of Shia and other Non-Muslim communities. Pakistan is also willing to ignore that instability in Balochistan is directly linked to economic interests of the Gulf countries including Iran. In international diplomacy, Pakistan is foolhardy to believe that its military and nuclear power will be allowed to independently police the region. Deep down, the PML-N government suffers from a delusion that its inclusion in the Saudi strategic framework will distance USA from its growing entente with Iran.
But what they ignore most is that Pakistan will remain Pawn to King Three. Yemen is the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Benjamin Franklin said, ‘Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both’.