The US-Saudi joint show in Riyadh is over. Leaders from some 55 Muslim-majority countries attended the so-called summit where they were lectured by none other than Trump and the Saudi King on how to fight ‘Islamic’ terrorism and what God really wants, among other things. They were told in categorical terms that the root of all evil in the Middle East, and even in the world at large, was Iran. They listened and came home. Now we will see where they stand.
The silent participation of leaders from these 55 countries does not mean that all of them support this US-Saudi plan for exacerbating the sectarian divide and flooding the region with even more chaos and war. These leaders were gathered by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to underscore its leadership of the Muslim world and that seems to be pretty much it. Did they, for instance, have any say in drafting the belligerently anti-Iran Riyadh Declaration? I doubt it.
The hypocritical rhetoric and platitudes aside, this is what the declaration, issued at the end of the so-called summit on behalf of the 55 leaders gathered there, had to say about Iran:
“1- The leaders stressed the rejection of sectarian agendas, citing their dangerous repercussions on the security of the region and the world at large.
2- The leaders confirmed their absolute rejection of the practices of the Iranian regime designed to destabilise the security and stability of the region and the world at large and for its continuing support for terrorism and extremism.
3- The leaders condemned the Iranian regime’s hostile positions and continuing interference in the domestic affairs of other countries in a flagrant violation of the principles of international law and good neighbourhood, confirming their commitment to confront that.
4- The leaders are committed to intensify their efforts to observe the security of the region and the world at large, and firmly confront the subversive and destructive Iranian activities inside their countries and through joint coordination.
5- The leaders underlined the dangerous Iranian ballistic missiles programme and denounced the Iranian regime’s continuing violations of Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”
The points about Iran are tucked away towards the end of the declaration but they are far more significant than what precedes them. Initiatives like the Terrorist Financing Targeting Centre and the Global Centre of Combating Extremist Ideology that the declaration showcases are mere frills. The US-guided Middle East Strategic Alliance floated in the declaration is a new tag for old partnerships. The real thrust of the declaration is aimed against Iran.
Interestingly, the declaration welcomes the readiness of a number of Islamic countries to participate in the Saudi Coalition and finally clears the mystery about its mission; “to provide a reserve force of 34,000 troops for support operations against terrorist organisations in Syria and Iraq”. And who would the Saudi coalition support? Not the Syrian government forces and its allies including Iran who are successfully defeating the terrorists for sure.
Under which international law would the Saudi coalition send troops to fight in the sovereign state of Syria? Or will it take the cue from the US-led coalition which bombs where it pleases and intervenes where it wants, regardless of what international law says? And who would the Saudi coalition forces support: The same imperialist coalition that has destroyed one Muslim country after another on the pretext of saving them? This much is written on the wall.
The US-Saudi nexus has made its intentions on the Middle East clear. They intend to intensify and coordinate more closely their wars of aggression in the Middle East, and rally more countries to join in. They intend to continue to pay lip-service to fighting terrorism even as they spawn proxy terrorists and launch them on states and societies resisting their hegemony. They would add $110 billion worth of weaponry to the conflicts in the Middle East.
The question is: Where do the 55 countries whose leaders had gathered in Riyadh stand on the Riyadh Declaration that was released on their behalf? More importantly: Where does our government stand on this US-Saudi partnership and our role in the Saudi coalition?
Some explanation is surely in place, especially because we were constantly told that our inclusion in the Saudi coalition would not be at the expense of our ties with Iran. Was the Pakistani delegation consulted on Riyadh Declaration before it was issued? Did we give our consent to what it declared? Or, like our inclusion in the Saudi coalition, did we find out about the Riyadh Declaration after it was announced? Now that it has been announced, and it is clearly a declaration of war against Iran, what do we have to say?
Are we going to go along with what the Saudi royals decide for us, like we did in the case of our inclusion in the Saudi coalition without our knowledge, let alone consent? We were told back then that it is only an idea and nothing is decided about the coalition so we should wait to see how it develops and even influence its direction. Why embarrass our Saudi benefactors by pulling out of a coalition on paper, seemed to be the official logic. Now that there is no doubt left about why the Saudis are assembling their coalition and under whose umbrella, should Pakistan still be so polite? Why should we be forced to take sides?
There is a broad consensus in Pakistan not to get embroiled in foreign wars, especially at a time when the situation at home requires the undivided attention of our security forces. International counter-terrorism cooperation is all very well but, as far as Pakistan is concerned, its focus should be on stabilising Afghanistan, where China, Russia, Central Asian states and Iran are our natural partners. It is no longer a secret that our long and supposedly close counter-terrorism cooperation with the US in Afghanistan was a fickle fraud.
We must never forget our partnership with the US and Saudi Arabia back in the 1980s when we all joined hands to flood Afghanistan with mercenary mujahedin. Pakistan is still paying the price for that partnership.
The writer is a freelance columnist.