Pakistan’s Saudi misadventure

Following last week’s embarrassment at the ‘Islamic’ summit in Riyadh, where neither Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif nor former Army Chief Gen (R) Raheel Sharif – who militarily spearheads the Saudi-led military coalition – was invited to speak, there are reports that Islamabad might be reconsidering participation in said ‘Islamic’ alliance.

The fact that US President was heading an ‘Islamic’ summit barely six months after winning an election campaign based – in significant part – on anti-Muslim populism should’ve been embarrassment enough for the Muslim world to begin with. What apparently has fueled rumours that Pakistan might be reconsidering participation in the alliance is the fact that both Trump and Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz upped the ante on anti-Iran rhetoric.

This either is a cop out, or reflects Islamabad’s utter lack of basic understanding of international relations and policies of the states it has historically allied itself with.

What exactly was it about Trump or King Salman’s speech that came as a surprise for anyone in Nawaz Sharif’s entourage, which had spent hours helping the Prime Minister memorise a speech that he ended up binning?

Do those at the helm of Pakistan’s foreign policy not even have sufficient knowhow to ‘decode’ what the theme of a summit lead by Trump and hosted by King Salman would be themed around before accepting the invitation to join in?

Did the fact that the coalition was first announced in December 2015 – ninth months into Saudi military intervention in Yemen and a month before the execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr – also not give Islamabad an idea who this alliance would be aligned against?

One would’ve been prompted to even hint that this belated suggestion of a potential back-peddling, if not complete retraction, is a reaction to the snub at the summit where Trump and King Salman collectively humiliated Pakistan by first not allowing the premier to speak and then by even refusing to include him in any publicised meetings or photo-ops.

But as far as Pakistan’s ties with Saudi Arabia are concerned, disagreement, let alone defiance, has never been on Islamabad’s menu.

So what exactly happened that has, apparently, caused a rethink?

“What we need to understand is that the Terms of Reference (TORs) of the alliance are yet to be finalised. The defence ministers of the participating countries will meet and discuss the modalities of the coalition. We must wait until we have all the information to comment on its outcome. We shouldn’t indulge in speculations,” Foreign office spokesperson Nafees Zakria said at the weekly briefing following the Riyadh summit.

Is the foreign office trying saying that an NOC was issued to Gen (R) Raheel Sharif to spearhead this coalition even before the exact details were finalised with Riyadh?

Or worse, was saying No to the NOC not even an option for the government?

Another government official has also maintained that Pakistan will join this alliance “only to fight terrorism.”

That should clear the confusion then. Because it’s not like the term ‘terrorism’ is loaded, or aligned with state policies.

A Kashmiri freedom fighter who picks up the gun is a terrorist for India. A separatist militant in Balochistan is a terrorist for Pakistan. A mujahid can be a terrorist or strategic asset depending on whether s/he is waging war against the military establishment or against it.

So maybe it’s a good idea to modalities of terrorism as well, before we agree to defend Saudi Arabia against terrorists.

A country that has unequivocally upheld that ‘atheists are terrorists’, clearly doesn’t even need an individual to take up arms for them to be lumped into the bin of terrorism. It also underscores that terrorism for the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is primarily based on ideological affiliations. And there are no prizes was guessing the one ideology that Wahabbism is antagonistic to even more than nonbelief.

If the Saudi-led coalition is really about ‘Muslim unity’ and ‘fight against terrorism’, how about Islamabad adds support for the Kashmiri struggle against what it dubs ‘Indian state terrorism’ in the ‘modalities’ of the alliance with Riyadh?

There have already been 223 UN resolutions against Israeli occupation of Palestine in the last decade alone, surely the ‘Muslim Ummah’ would also care about ‘Muslim brothers’ in Kashmir?

The only hindrance here is the fact Saudi Arabia has defence agreements with India, supplies 19% of its oil needs and has bilateral trade worth $39 billion.

This diplomatic pickle that Islamabad currently finds itself in is the culmination of decades of Islamist foreign policy where religious affiliation has been peddled as a conclusive determinant not only for bilateral ties between Muslim states, but also to alienate other states – India and Israel being prime examples.

The moment Pakistan abandons its Islamist approach towards relations with neighbouring Afghanistan and Iran – in addition to other Muslim states – and takes up the Kashmir cause without any religious blinkers, it would not only witness a complete revamp of its relations with the world, and in turn the image around the globe, it would also sort out the many contradictions that are forcing Islamabad to pursue duplicitous foreign and security policies.

Till then joining any alliance that claims to be ‘Islamic’ and discriminatory at the same time is masochistic. For any such coalition would define itself with respect to who isn’t Islamic. And we all know what happens when that domino effect kicks in.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a former member of staffHe can be reached at Follow him on Twitter

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt