An erratic coalition

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

geust-contPakistan has done many stupid things within the rubrics of foreign and domestic policy. And joining a coalition of predominantly Arab states against ‘terrorism’ where the terrorist and the nature of the activity are defined ad lib could prove one of the most regrettable. There is such a thing as rational neutrality, but it seems to be something with which we are non-aligned.

Of course we are financially indebted to Saudi Arabia (the coalition’s convener) more recently and currently than we are indebted to Iran: But that could also be because Iran has been sanctioned out of prosperity; rather the way Saddam’s Iraq was. And the coalition’s focus is on Iran and Shi’ite ‘insurrectionary’ segments or regimes Iran may be sympathising with in the very troubled Middle East and Gulf states. Iran has never taken a side that is overtly or covertly hostile to Pakistan or vice versa. Are we coalescing to create adversaries for ourselves and foster sectarian differentiations?

One constant in our foreign policy is alignment with America, starting from when the world was bipolar and the USSR was Red and godless. So one clear way to view the burgeoning coalition is through the prism of American pressures/interests. What are America’s regional interests? And in what way could we be of use?

Ideally, Muslims do not differentiate between Ajami and Arabi or other pan-Islamic ethnicities: But other political and secular entities may do so with a clear conscience and play with forging conflicted peace. History is still showing us that it is not beyond powerful states to promote sectarianism and conflicts to serve their own national expansionist power interests. Pakistan has already been of proxy service to America in Afghanistan. Admittedly we had our own tradition of borderline acrimony and mistrust; but we enlarged its scope facilitating Mujahideen/Taliban and then de-facilitating them in line with American positioning.

To a large extent, Pakistan’s gut response to ‘jihadist’ terrorism post the massacre at the Army Public School in 2014 meets the demand of ‘doing more’ as wished for by America in the AfPak context. Even so, we are often blamed for America’s not getting star plus results: Are our hearts really in the struggle they ask? It is undeniable that geography does not allow us to put ourselves at a safe remove when battles are won or lost. Also, the population of any Muslim state has its own mix of demographic sectarian and doctrinal interpretations: This generates its own demands in political adjustments. Have we the temerity to claim interests of our own as a sovereign state? Can we assert the legitimacy of needing to consider our own national interests with our several other border states? Will we be able to do this from within a coalition we have been told we were in before being publicly asked? Can we further conciliatory mediation by joining it, when the avowed purpose is that of taking sides that keep shifting within the parameters of corporate multinational global interests?

Arbitrators need to be outside the dispute and recognized as neutral by the disputants.Where could the march of the envisaged coalition’s varying sectarian profile and alignments — depending on who is officially entrenched and variously favoured or disfavoured by interested if not controlling external powers –- take us? And not just us but them too.