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A fragile alliance

Mohammad Jamil

Much-touted alliance of Muslim countries has proved fragile, as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives have severed diplomatic relations with Qatar. The Saudi kingdom made the announcement that it was taking action for, what it called the protection of national security. The news agency released a statement in which “it accused Qatar of harboring a multitude of terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to create instability in the region.” Saudi Arabia also closed the border and halted air and sea traffic with Qatar, urging all brotherly countries and companies to do the same. According to analysts, Saudis want Doha to accept Riyadh’s leadership and to agree to positions taking by them on Libya, Syria, Egypt, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and above all to take a harder line towards Iran. However, Qatar appears to have different views.

Though Saudi-led alliance was said to be an alliance against terrorism, contours of Arab-Islamic-American summit were defined during the speeches of President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdul Aziz. President Donald Trump accused Iran of fuelling “the fires of sectarian conflict and terror”, and held Iran responsible for training armed groups in the wars in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. Saudi King Salman in his speech termed Iran “the spearhead of global terrorism” and called for containing it. President Trump in his keynote address said: “The nations of Europe have also endured unspeakable horror. So too have the nations of Africa and even South America. India, Russia, China and Australia have been victims.” He intentionally skipped the name of Pakistan, which has lost more than 60000 people and about 6000 army personnel while fighting terror. To add insult to injury, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not invited to address the conference.

The objective behind Saudi-led alliance was to showcase that Saudi Arabia is the leader so Muslim ummah. Saudis, therefore, wanted Qatar to stop using its role as a broker to raise its political profile above Saudi Arabia’s, as it did in Lebanon and Afghanistan. For many years Qatar leadership had its own ideas and vision about the future of the Middle East, which irritated the Saudis. Earlier, Al Jazeera TV was the bone of contention, as Egypt and Saudi Arabia accused it of being mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist organization.  Riyadh and two other Gulf monarchies – Bahrain and the UAE – had frozen diplomatic ties with Qatar in March 2014, but this time round split involves the closure of borders, cessation of trade and withdrawal of their citizens. Kuwait, Turkey and the US have suggested that any political disputes and issues should be resolved through talks; however, given the past history, Kuwait would stand by Saudi Arabia ultimately.
In the past, the US and the West had played their role in exacerbating the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saddam Hussain’s government was strengthened through massive funding by the Arab countries and US, the West had provided arms to counter Iran’s rising power. They also had stirred violence in Libya by supporting the rebels with funds and arms; yet they utterly failed to bring order or stability in Libya. After that it was Syria’s turn; and they played the sectarian card and provided arms to the Syrian rebels. Having realized that the Al Qaeda militants had entered the ranks of the rebels, the US started distancing itself and refused to provide air support to the rebels. In an interview, then President Obama had expressed regret that his government did not help rebuild Libya after Nato-led airstrikes in 2011 that defeated the Qaddafi regime.

There are ominous signals; and Syrian conflict could be a prelude to another World War. Officially, Russian President Putin denies having any plans for creating a military alliance with China, yet both countries share a desire to limit American power by challenging Washington’s still dominant global position. They are in favor of a multi-polar world, and the two powers often find themselves on the same side in the UN Security Council, where they wield vetoes as permanent members. Issues like deal on regulating Iran’s nuclear program and handling North Korea or Syria could not have been possible without Russia and China. Of course, Bashar al-Assad has been able to hold on to power in Syria due to their support. The US is supporting Syrian rebels whereas Russia stands behind Syrian regime; any escalation could throw the region into further turmoil.

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