Countering the common threat for greater strategic goal

Spearhead Analysis – 04.11.2016

By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

isisThe emerging battle: Saudi Arabia recently claimed to have prevented an ISIS planned attack near a sports stadium in Jeddah. According to the Saudi Ministry of Interior the arrested members include two Pakistanis, one Syrian and one Sudanese. Manzoor ul Haq, the official state representative of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia strongly condemned the attacks and promised Pakistan’s support on the war against terror.

The ‘Sunni’ ISIS earlier in July 2016, claimed the responsibility of another attack in Medina; some believe it was signaled against the custodian of the two holy mosques; the king. Simultaneously an attack was also carried out near the US consulate in Jeddah in which a Pakistani suicide bomber was allegedly identified by Saudi forces.

Recently, the ISIS name has emerged locally, it was one of the groups that claimed responsibility of the recent Quetta attacks. The presence of ISIS in Pakistan is still under speculation.

The Saudi- Pak Battles:

Saudi Arabia; a country that has been combating insurgencies in its oil-rich eastern province primarily in the city of Qatif which houses the country’s Shia population; also borders with Yemen. This sectarian violence ridden territory, carries immense strategic importance because adjacent to South-western coast of Yemen and between the horn of Africa stands Bab el-Mandeb, ironically it means “Gate of Tears”. Approximately 3.8 million barrels of oil passes through this strait each day. Furthermore, it also has a presence of US maritime forces as it connects to the Red Sea and then the Indian Ocean. According to an article in the Foreign Policy Journal “Almost all of the trade between the European Union and China, Japan, India and the rest of Asia passes through the Bab el-Mandeb. Up to 30% of the world’s oil, including all of the oil and natural gas from the Persian Gulf heading west passes through the Horn of Africa daily.”

The Shia Houthi forces as Saudi Arabia claims are Iranian backed are in dispute with the “Sunni” Kingdom in the region. According to Reuters:

‘These conflicts have also raised the oil prices by 6% as Saudi Arabia and its allies launch airstrikes against the Houthis’.

According to J. Peter Pham of U.S. think tank the Atlantic Council, “The power of the Houthis will enable Iran to expand its presence on both sides of the Bab el-Mandeb, in the Gulf of Aden and in the Red Sea, the balance of power in the sub-region would shift significantly.”

Pakistan is also waging its separate war against various militancy uprisings and has been a direct victim of terrorism. The South Asia Terrorism Portal reports that fatalities caused due to terrorism in Pakistan are up to 30,000 people since 2003 till 2016; which includes civilians and armed personnel— and about 33000 terrorists have been killed.

The direct impact of arrest of “Pakistani” members of ISIS:

It is believed that the ISIS has been facing defeat in Iraq and Syria, and is seeking new platforms. So, a blind eye should not be turned to their claimed presence but it should also not be used to accuse states of sponsoring terrorism as that derails the process of peace.

Terrorism may use various names but the prime goal stays constant i.e. anti- state actions. And an anarchist should never be given the privilege to taint states’ relations.

The Saudi foreign policy objectives are as follows— Security, Islamic Solidarity and Pan Arabism. Pakistani and Saudi interests do merge on security and Islamic solidarity. The number of Pakistanis residing in Saudi Arabia is said to be approximately 1.5million. Pakistan has catered to the human deficit problem of Saudi Arabia and provided the kingdom with technical experts and labor. In exchange of manpower, the Pakistani economy receives an inflow of approximately 5.9 billion USD as remittances. Saudi Arabia has also bailed out Pakistani economy on several occasions and in March 2016 approved an economic aid package worth 122 million USD, it is also claimed that Pakistan receives large amounts from non government sources. The annual bilateral trade between the two countries for the last fiscal year was 6.1billion USD, although India has emerged as a competitor against Saudi Arabia’s ‘closest Muslim ally’ and engaged in trade worth 39.4billion USD. From 1960’s onwards Saudi Arabia relied on Pakistan for military support and Pakistani forces played a pivotal role in developing and training the Royal Saudi Armed Forces. Pakistan also participated in the recent “Thunder of the North” exercise held in Saudi Arabia which aimed at preparing against terrorism. Saudi Arabia also provided amnesty to the PM post 1999 coup, and the PM shares cordial relations with the Saudi Government– bilateral strains due to these terror incidents will not benefit either party.

It is imperative to not view this issue solely as a sectarian conflict. But, as political uprisings masquerading in the name of religion because outright claiming lust for material power may seem too distasteful? The region is one of the several hubs where various global players collide in efforts to attain a balance of power in this wobbly world of various power spheres. it gets more tricky because most actions of the players indicate that they are engaged in a zero-sum game, instead of focusing on the absolute gains and trying to find peaceful solutions for economic advantages. That needs to change for actualizing peace.

Saudi Arabia looks to Pakistan for support in case of aggression against it and both aspire to see a stable Afghanistan. for that purpose prior to 9/11 both nations saw common strategic interests in Kabul, both aspired to see a friendly government there. Saudi Arabia has been accused of funding terrorist groups, while Pakistan has been accused of maintaining forces to counter external security threats from neighboring countries. Several charity organizations solicit foreign funding but neither Pakistan nor Saudi Arabia are state sponsors of such cash flows and both are committed to strangling such activity through multiple measures. This also applies to arms transfers that have been taking place because of the protracted conflicts in Afghanistan and Indian Held Kashmir. Refugees fro Afghanistan is another issue that is being slowly resolved. This year the opium production in Afghanistan was at a record high.

Possible ways forward:

When the ‘Shia’ Houthis recently carried out an attack on Medina, all Muslim countries stood in solidarity with Saudi Arabia; Iran strongly condemned the attacks too. ISIS; the so called ‘sunni’ extremist group who is challenging the ‘sunni’ kingdom; carrying ‘anti – Shia’ sentiments can be viewed as a factor that would unify the two estranged nations i.e Saudi Arabia and Iran, and serve as an eye opener that this isn’t the face of a ‘religious’ struggle but rather a fascist political movement. Pakistan a country which accommodates not just Sunnis and Shias also has a multitude of other sects and religions, may act as a reconciliation medium between this so called ‘Shia Sunni’ dispute as they have all found a common enemy; ISIS. The nations need to engage in developing frameworks for mutual advancement and counter terrorism strategies.

The CPEC may provide the countries with this opportunity as both Iran and Saudi Arabia have shown interest in the project. Nawaz Sharif’s personal bilateral ties with the kingdom could play a pivotal role in actualizing peace as well as in normalizing India-Pakistan relations.

“Terrorism has no nationality or religion.” Vladimir Putin