The dispute between the two strands of Islam has existed for the last fourteen hundred years, yet they have learnt to live peacefully with traditional grace and there is no fear that the present dispute “will grow something like the murderous religious wars of Catholics and Protestants in the 16th and 17th century that devastated Europe.” What has complicated the matter is “the conspiracy” which has created the present crisis demanding immediate corrective measures.
After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, USA imposed strict sanctions on Iran, and cultivated Saudi Arabia as the new proxy in the Middle East. A year later on 22 September 1980, Saddam Husein invaded Iran. Pakistan got alarmed and called an emergent meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) on 24 September 1980. I was called to attend the meeting. After a long discussion of over three hours, the consensus had emerged that “the Iranians will capitulate in a matter of few weeks and Pakistan should have the plans ready to deal with the new situation.” I had not spoken and sought President Ziaul Haq permission to speak. I said: “My assessment is entirely different. This will be a long drawn-out war spread over several years. The Iranians will emerge Victorious and the Revolution will consolidate.” (Every one laughed). I reasoned-out, quoting a Chinese philosopher, who said long ago: “Don’t take-on the revolutionaries, unless you know, you have an ideology stronger than theirs.” And there is no ideology stronger than the ideology of the Islamic Revolution, which will triumph over the Baathists.”
I argued that historically the Iranians have stood united against foreign aggression. Raza Shah’s armed forces are presently locked-up in their barracks but they will rush to the borders to defend the country and Pasdarans will be free to establish their hold internally to consolidate the Revolution. Moreover, the Iraqi generals, do not compare with German General Staff, to conduct ‘blitzkrieg Operations’ deep into the Iranian territory. They would get bogged down in a bloody battle across the front-line, thus loosing the very aim of winning the war within the first few days i.e., “a crushing defeat of the Iranian forces”, whereas the Iranians would be fighting ‘a purposeful war’ of defeating the aggression. I would therefore recommend that we also consider the possibility of a long drawn-out war with Iran, emerging as the winner. General Zia agreed with me and directed that both the possibilities will be taken into consideration.
When Iran-Iraq war had started, Henry Kissinger is reported to have said, “I wish that both kill each other”, but the opposite happened. After eight years of a bloody war, with more than two million dead, Iranians crossed the Shhatal Arab and assembled their forces in the Faw Peninsula, poised for offensive towards Basra, when Saddam struck with chemical weapons, provided by the civilized world. Iran had no defense against such weapons and agreed for the seize fire. During the eight years war, Pakistan suffered from bloody sectarian riots by militant organizations, such as Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Muhammad etc., all officially sponsored to widen the sectarian divide.
In 1991, US made Saddam Husein invade and annex Kuwait. Saddam resumed his offensive, and as he extended his forces into the open desert, the American airpower destroyed them piece by piece. Having done with Iraq, now it was Iran’s turn to face the brunt. Therefore, the Iranians were demonized as a great threat to the Sunni countries in the region, which induced fear in their minds, compounded by the realization of the emerging Shiite-crescent, from Iran to Iraq, Bahrain and Hoties in Yemen. The nuclear deal with Iran caused panic, making them purchase military hardware from USA, worth over three hundred billion dollars, preparing to fight Iran. And now the grand alliance of 34 countries under the Saudis; four-nations alliance under Russia and the 60 nations coalition of the willing under USA are poised for “the battle of the century.” Nothing much is going to happen, because this is a crowed, not knowing where to go and what to achieve.
In the past Pakistan refused to join the Saudis in their war. During Gulf War I, when Saddam was building-up his forces for the offensive, they posed a threat to Saudi Arabia, who demanded from Pakistan to mobilize for war its 15000 troops stationed there. Our government also came under American pressure, but as Chief of Army Staff, I opposed it, because “this was not our war.” That annoyed the Americans and Saudis, who cut-off all contacts with me. Only recently when the Saudis decided to wage war in Yemen, a friend of mine from Tehran, asked me whether Pakistan army was joining the war on Yemen? I said “No. This is not our war.” Similarly last week, my worried friend from Tehran again asked me whether Pakistan Army was joining the 34 nations Saudi Alliance. I said “No. We have problems at home.”
The Iran-Saudi dispute is a contrived one, based on the sectarian sensibilities of the two strands of Islam, exploited by the powers, who have relentlessly targeted the world of Islam, causing such death and destruction in counties like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia. Countries like Syria and Iraq are in a state of melt-down. This criminality has given birth to Daēsh, which threatens world peace. All the great powers of the world and coalition of nations now are focusing on destruction of Daēsh, without having a clear idea, “where would the Daēsh go, when they are edged-out from the territories they now hold?” because Daēsh has “support tentacles, which extend to eighty countries of the world, with more than thirty thousand of them boosting their strength, year after year.”
The situation is grave, beyond the mundane considerations of sectarian divide of Islam and the “jingoism of fighting the crusade against the world of Islam.” Cool thinking is needed to plan and act against the rising tide of terrorism, which is recoiling back on those who, now choose to sermonize, in the State of the Union address and say they have done their job. It appears that the realization has already come, as President Obama says: “As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes,” i.e., into the stone age – the very threat given to Pakistan, prior to the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.