By Khaled Ahmed
June 8, 2019
There are more countries than ever before who hate America today under President Donald Trump. He has alienated Europe on NATO and the rest of the world doesn’t know which side he is on. He is against China and some argue that he should also be against Russia to retain a foothold within a scared European Union. Because the main enemy is China, Trump favours India, the rising economic power in the world. He has taken on Iran and finds it easy because Iran is pitted against “fellow-Muslim” Arabs across the Gulf.
Trump wants Iran choked. He wants the world to not buy its oil. American sanctions were in place from way back but exemptions were made for eight importers of Iranian oil that included India and China. Some of the “exemptees” have quickly “adjusted” by stopping their imports while the others are in the process of kowtowing to Trump. He asked India to comply — the help rendered by the US on the Masood Azhar issue was Trump’s bargaining chip — and India has submitted, forgoing its deserved status of the big nation of the region. Next, Trump wants to squeeze India on trade.
If the Saudis are happy that they have got Trump to squeeze Iran, they will soon realise that the US president is not so kind. He will demand that Saudi Arabia and the UAE go back to producing more oil to make up for the shortfall that will be caused by the sanctions on Iran. The Saudis were putting a lid on oil production to prevent it from going cheap. Aligned with Trump, the Arabs do not mind that the US has approved Israel’s move to shift its capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — all this while the Palestinians are being thrashed by the Israeli army.
The world — perhaps only the Islamic world — deserves Trump. Muslims are fighting each other in the states they inhabit even as these states take on each other — Iran and the crumbling states next door like Iraq and Syria are good examples. The Arabs triggered a new inferno by staging the Arab Spring of 2011. The Spring started going wrong from day one and the toppling of the Muslim dictators didn’t lead to the halcyon days of democracy but more trouble, except, perhaps, in Tunisia — even though its youth formed the largest number of IS warriors in Iraq-Syria.
Trump doesn’t mind General Sisi ruling Egypt, the most populous Arab state. Egypt has just passed a constitutional amendment after a referendum on April 22, advancing President Sisi’s one-man rule. After all, his dictatorship was ushered in by millions of Egyptians demonstrating against the oppressive but elected government of President Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood that was beginning to go after the large minority of Coptic Christians in the country.
The Economist reflected thus on why the Muslims can’t live with democracy: “Secular Arabs and their friends in the West now argue that because Islamists tend to regard their rule as God-given, they will never accept that a proper democracy must include checks, including independent courts, a free press, devolved powers and a pluralistic constitution to protect minorities.”
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, after promising the “State of Medina” to Pakistanis, is trying to mend fences with India — the neighbour Pakistan has bothered over the years with its revisionism on Kashmir and by using non-state actors for cross border terrorism. Since Pakistan had used this strategy against Afghanistan as well, Khan has his task cut out. He has gone to Iran saying he is going to stop the cross-border attacks against it. (One Iranian Baloch terrorist called Abdolmalek Rigi entered Pakistan and was educated in madrasa Jamia Banuria in Karachi, the alma mater of Masood Azhar. His outfit then killed Iranians inside Iran.)
Pakistan is trying to get out of the mess it got into by fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and bringing hard Islam upon itself. Imran Khan can’t do it without adopting the rhetoric of the Islamists that brought down the Arab Spring. India is better placed to face up to the vagaries of Trumpism but it has unfortunately lifted the lid off its own “religious revival”, negating its pluralist past. Pakistan has suffered at the hands of religion. Will India have to take a long route to normalcy before peace prevails in South Asia, Trump or no Trump?
Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan