Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pakistan’s policy vis-à-vis Syria: An ill-conceived departure

Pakistan’s policy vis-à-vis Syria has been non-interfering and neutral. Neither any solution to the dispute was offered nor did Pakistan side with any of the players in contention in that civil war-racked country. So far it was a benign, conciliatory and noncontroversial approach by any standards. As a result, our relations with Iran, China and Russia — major contenders in the Syrian war on one side — remained unaffected. All this is going to change now. Our relationship with Saudi Arabia, with a new veneer of collaboration, has affected our policy on Syria. Reflecting the Geneva I and II conferences’ declarations, Pakistan would also now seek a transitional government excluding Bashar al-Assad so that the country pulls out of the civil war it has been drenched in for three years. So far, taking their cue from the Libyan crisis where the US and NATO intervened in the name of protecting the people but instead engineered regime change, stoking the conflict into an unending war, countries like China and Russia did not allow a UN Security Council resolution to fool the world again and allow the US-led west another opportunity to remove the Syrian thorn from their plans for a Middle East re-ordered to suit their interests. The expanding imperial designs hidden behind the ‘right to protect’ slogan, which has exhausted its shelf life, has saved Syria from becoming another plaything of the western agenda. Russia, with its political and strategic alliance with the Syrian government, had made the excuse of intervention because of Syria’s chemical weapons null and void, avoiding thereby another western military intervention. The Syrian civil war, with its existing sectarian and ethnic overtones, is also the result of the Saudi and Qatari intervention through proxies to destabilise Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The overblown presence of al Qaeda and a rush of rebels with new weaponry have been made possible because of the US-Saudi-Qatari nexus. The regional power play wherein Iran and Saudi Arabia are trying to extend their influence in the Middle East through warfare laced in religious tones has neither served the regional cause nor would it do any good to Pakistan if it gets too close to the Saudis in this regard merely for the expedient goal of garnering more Saudi aid.
Pakistan’s present suffering, emanating from jihadi terrorism, is a product in part of our Saudi relationship. The manpower used in the Soviet-Afghan war was raised, trained and nurtured in the Saudi-funded madrassas across Pakistan. Having become a virtual industry, the madrassas are now churning out terrorists not only in Pakistan, but exporting them to the entire world. Converted into a weapon, ‘jihad’ is used to pressurise the other side, as the Saudis tried to do by threatening Russia on the Syrian issue with unleashing the Chechen jihadis on Russia if it refuses to toe the Saudi line. Already, Wahabi and Salafi theology is playing havoc in Syria and other parts of the world. The Taliban’s moral policing and their assault on the Pakistani state smacks of the outcome of Saudi Arabia’s design to spread its brand of Islam. The Shia-Sunni divide is the by-product of the same strategy that separates Wahabis from the rest of the Muslim world.
Why do we want to put our fingers into a seething cauldron that would only create more enemies and conceivably alienate our friends? Are we not already in the throes of enough problems that we should invite more through an ill-conceived departure from our hitherto wise policy of non-intervention? On the one hand the government of Nawaz Sharif had wanted to enhance Pakistan’s economic position through regional cooperation, on the other it wants to toe Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy prescriptions. Such diplomatic posturing would only expose our weak internal disposition on foreign affairs by exposing our opportunistic hankering for financial benefits from our allies at the cost of all principles.

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