We have to have neutrality
The Muslim world has been struggling; from terrorism, sectarian violence to civil wars; and this part of the world hasn’t seen peace in years now.
Since 2011, Syria has lost more than 0.25million people due to its civil war and about 10 million have become refugees, trying to fit in, in some part of the world.
In the war-ravaged Middle East, another offence is on the verge, as KSA and Turkey gear up to apparently fight terrorism in the already shattered Syria.
“This battle is basically a Cold War between Iran and KSA in which Pakistan shouldn’t be a party,” Ayesha Siddiqa, a civilian military scientist, said while talking to DNA.
The strife between Iran and Saudi is historical, apart from their religious differences; both have a lot in common, their authoritarian system, oil riches, the claim to be the heads of the two largest Muslim sects and, of course, the common friend Pakistan.
A serious sectarian war could break out if Saudi, as it has also declared, sends in ground forces allegedly to confront ISIS into Syria, where Iran is already fighting.
Turkey, on the other hand, is wishful of capturing more land and has allied with KSA. Russia supports Iran and its counterpart is supported by the USA.
Islamabad has been in a state of confusion since Dec 15, 2015, when Riyadh announced that Pakistan was part of the 34-member collation, without Pakistan’s consent. And our foreign office spokesman, without a moment’s hesitation, said, “We are happy and we are right in the coalition.”
On 17 Feb, Sartaj Aziz again announced that though Pakistan has neither signed an official agreement with Saudi Arabia nor joined the 34-country alliance to fight terror, we still welcomed the Saudi-called grand alliance against extremism.
“It’s a very calculated decision, as no country can force any country or persuade any policy,” Gen (r) Talat Masood told DNA while commenting on the vague remarks by the foreign office.
Ayesha Siddiqa agreed, saying, “I think Pakistan has initially taken a very conscious and cautious position.”
Imtiaz Gul, an Islamabad-based analyst, thinks Pakistan should only be part of the peace process and secondly only to show support it should play a symbolic role rather than becoming any part of the conflict.
“Being part of the process can fuel sectarian violence back home, we already have a lot on our plate”, he said.
Gen Talat also thinks for Pakistan to get dragged in would be extremely dangerous, rather unfortunate and of course an incorrect decision. “We are fighting a war on terrorism. They are fighting a different type of war against terrorism, and that doesn’t mean we have to fight everyone’s war for them,” he stressed.
“Resources would be diverted to another conflict. It would be the biggest blunder to be involved in another country’s war which we would gain anything of”.
Ayesha was quick to remind that the fight against ISIS is one assumption of the war and that traditionally we have always stood by the Saudis and rest of the Muslim world when the common threat was Israel, “Joining a battle between Muslim states is far more problematic,” she emphasised.
She also recalled the war of 1969 when Pakistani PAF fighters flew Saudi aircraft to bomb northern Yemen. “That was the time when lines were less clear, now we know exactly what is happening.”
So are we joining in the war or not?
The popular notion that DNA came across was that we certainly won’t.
“One would hope that Pakistan doesn’t get involved because it is already engaged in a fight against terrorism at home,” said Imtiaz.
Talat was of the view that Pakistan should keep out of all military conflicts, as we already are under allot of stress. “Pakistan should keep out of it, as the war is a decision of KSA and the Turks. They are also geographically located near Syria, although it would have been better if it was settled politically.”
Pakistan did try to solve the matter politically if one remembers, and though Iran welcomed the gesture, the Saudis said they didn’t want us to intervene.
Sartaj Aziz has said Pakistan would stand by Saudi Arabia for its stability and sovereignty, adding that 1,000 to 1,200 Pakistani troops are always in Saudi Arabia because of the 1982 Defence Agreement.
What should Pakistan do? Can we say no?
Pakistan, as a country, has its own interests and greater needs. Having good relations with the all the countries involved in the conflict; Pakistan has a very tough decision to make.
Pakistan might have learnt from its previous mistake, if it could be called one, of saying no to the Yemen coalition and opted for an inconclusive stance this time.
“We shouldn’t be dictated by anyone, we said no to Yemen, we can say it again,” said Talat. “If we say no to KSA they still have a lot to do with us, they might even understand our limitations. The only thing a country should be dictated by is its own interests.”
Ayesha Siddiqa recounted that in 1991 the then COAS took the position that Pakistan and its army want to be a part of the ongoing war but will protect the sacred cities, Makkah and Medina. Pakistan should have the same stance at the moment. “We have to have neutrality in this, we ourselves have internal security issues, and larger interests are at stake here.”
Stakeholders: USA and China
Pakistan has finally started to see some stability with Zarb-e-Azb going strong and many foreign investors willing to invest in the development of the country, on the condition that we secure our entire front.
The US for one wouldn’t want Pakistan to get involved under any circumstances as it is looking forward to Pakistan’s participation in the reconciliation process with Afghanistan.
“Pakistan and US are already engaged on the Afghan facade and focused. The US wouldn’t want Pakistan to deviate into a war outside its borders,” says Imtiaz Gul
The US is not the only one keeping high expectations with Pakistan, we have another gigantic investor — China.
China has invested a fortune in the CPEC, it is a much-needed prospect for Pakistan and would benefit the entire country.
“We need our troops to protect the CPEC, and we cannot ruin Pakistan’s future,” Ayesha Siddiqa continued, adding, “We usually hear that KSA has helped us a lot economically, but if we start calculating the US has probably done more for us. KSA for that matter hasn’t been absolutely generous with us so why should we destroy our security for it?”