The Age of Coalitions

Spearhead Analysis – 23.12.2015

By Ayesha N.I. Ahmad
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

TankersLast week, the Saudi government announced a new consortium of 34 Islamic countries, which it has stated it will lead against the growing threat of terrorism in the Middle East. The aim of this coalition will be to share knowledge through training and funding, and if necessary provide ground troops so as to fight the rising threat of the Islamic State in the Middle East. The headquarters of this alliance will be based out of Riyadh. The exclusion of Muslim nations such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Indonesia has led to speculations regarding the true intent of this latest Saudi initiative. The news of the inclusion of Egypt and militarily strong nations of Turkey and Pakistan has led to internal criticisms within the nations.

In Pakistan, the inclusion in the Saudi sponsored alliance has led to fierce criticism being leveled at the government of Nawaz Sharif. Defence analysts have pointed out the arrogance of the Saudis in wanting to lead a military alliance which relies heavily on the military strength of nations such as Turkey and Pakistan. Policy makers point out that considering Pakistan has a high Shia population the decision process to be part of this coalition should have had a more considered approach. Furthermore, they add that while turkey has its own interest in the Middle East regarding the emerging Kurdish reality on its borders with Syria and Iraq Pakistan has no real stake. The cost of providing intelligence and ground force to the region of the Middle East has also come into focus. Any troop deployment will come out of Pakistan’s own defence budget something that many in the nation will not appreciate. Critics see this inclusion as a personal favor by the prime minister as opposed to what is in the best interest of the nation. The prime minister and his family who hold key positions in his kitchen cabinet are said to be close friends of the house of Saud.

Opposition parties in the country are already pointing out the blunders on the diplomatic front have become a hall mark under Nawaz Sharif. By agreeing without taking the parliament into confidence many feel the situation will be a repeat of the Yemen led coalition and will lead to a further cooling of Pakistan’s relations with the Arab Sunni states. Establishment officials have expressed annoyance that after having successfully hosted the Heart of Asia conference the positive ability of Pakistan in its region should have been the focus of the government. As the state fights a battle against terrorism and seeks to exploit its geo strategic location in the region this announcement by the Saudis has been seen by many as spanner. A potential fall out of this alliance could be a spark in sectarian conflict in the region. China has invested heavily in the south west Asia region and Pakistan is seen as its key ally in the region. Thus, any alliance of Pakistan with Sunni Arab states might upset it as a sectarian conflict in the region would destabilize its $46 billion investment there.

Since the announcement of this alliance a strong element in the Middle East has become vocal about it being just another proxy alliance in the region to contain Russia and Iran. Observers in the region report that the support amongst the population of the region is low for any coalition related to America or the Arab Gulf Kingdoms. Egypt once a staunch ally of the US has started to actively branch out to Russia. Sisi is proving to be no Mubarak and has ambitions of making Egypt a nuclear state with the aid of Russia. A viewpoint is emerging that if any Muslim nation alliance should have been made than it should have been done at the OIC forum and that the nations of Iran, Iraq, and Syria cannot be excluded as they are actively fighting against ISIS. The exclusion of Indonesia, the largest Muslim country has also highlighted that most of the nations included in the coalition have weak economies and whom the Saudis think they can buy.

The US too has come under domestic criticism about its alliance with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The recent attacks in San Bernardino and the possible radicalization of Tasheen Malik in Saudi Arabia ignited a fierce debate within the power corridors of Washington. Vocal criticism has started to emerge regarding the need for the US to stop turning a blind eye to the radicalized version of Islam that Saudi Arabia has exported to many Muslim nations to maintain hegemony in the Middle East. Leading academics have said that the US will have to re think its game of thrones approach to the Middle East. While it is true that IS poses a great threat, the complicity in creating it of the Saudis and US cannot be pushed aside. Both will have to do some serious soul searching and come to the realization that as the world changes the shift of power does to.

For the rest of the world, the reality is that ISIS while contained spatially still proves to be efficient in lone wolf attacks and in brain washing those who are disenfranchised. The need will be for a consensus to be formed targeting poor governance in nations and those that promote a narrow vision of Islam.