Trump lands in Saudi Arabia with fanfare and ado. A rousing reception awaits him there. His engagements include three events; a series of meetings with hosts, a pep talk to leaders of Gulf Cooperation Council how to deal with threat from IS militants, war in Yemen and threat of ballistic missiles and maritime shipping in Red Sea. Finally a launch in chorus of over fiftyheads of Islamic States who on sidelines, would also be pondering at ways how to combat extremism and crack down illicit financing.
Saudis are over exuberant and elated to find Trump amongst their midst following an uneasy period of strained cordiality between them because of Obama’ overtures to Iran and counselling to them to find an effective way to share neighbourhood and institute some sort of cold peace. These were testing times particularly, when they got bogged down in proxy war backed by Iran in neighbouring Yemen. With Trump at Capitol Hill, they see an opportunity to form a partnership with US, suiting to mutual convenience.
In ME, US has two primordial vital interests; Oil and Israel. Security of Israel is unexceptionable. US and Israel are in total agreement about twin threat of militant Islam in the region; extremists led by Iran and extremists led by IS however, both attach first priority to the former because of its relative potency and motivation. The annihilation of both, step by step will ultimately add to security of Israel immeasurably. Besides, Trump intends to turn region a bullish market for US’s arms sale to stimulate US economy by boasting manufacturing jobs as he vowed during his election campaign. A series of arms deals for Saudi Arab, totaling more than $100 billion, is in offing. US is also selling fighter jets, worth $5 billion to Bahrain.
The renewed association is also aimed to act as antidote to his signature policy; entry ban on refugees and travel from six Muslim countries. Overall it also lays to rest notion that America is anti-Muslim. This all makes US an active participant in a regional conflict but of international dimensions. Surely US would exert pulls and call the shots to secure its bundle of interests at virtually no cost.
This is no strange because a big super power can wrench out the maximum without responding in sufficient, leave alone equal measure. Inevitably, regardless of their inadequacies, other stakeholders would not sit mute. By its implications, auguries do not seem good for peace and amity in the region. It may harden attitude of countries involved in affray. It would incite divide, strife and conflict and may ultimately, set the stage for mutual destruction as was the case in Iraq and Syria.
By default or design, Pakistan is in international rigmarole. It is no more in position to claim neutrality as opposed to its earlier stance. Nevertheless, obtaining situation has strengthened its leverage to act as a facilitator between two squabbling Islamic States; Saudi Arab and Iran. With its participation in Military Alliance, reliance of Saudi Arab on Pakistan has increased greatly. Word of Pakistan ought to have more weight and currency when also seen in overall context of commitments of Pakistan given to Saudi Arab for its defense against external aggression.
With backing of Saudi Arab by US and hullabaloo about its nuclear deal, Iran looks to be in anamenable mood to listen counsels of restraint and peace attentively. If persuaded meaningfully, at least, it could be ready to make temporary peace in the region. Its positive response to recent overture by Kuwait to mediate between both was apalpable pointer.Recent visit of Iranian President to Oman also reinforcedthe point.Need of reconciliation was not also extinct among Saudis. Surprise visit of Saudi FM to Iraq was a positive sign. On the contrary, animosity between the two is sharp, deep and mutual. Recent exchange of firebrand works was a sad but real spectacle. Both vowing rhetorically to wage war in their areas. This is what was expected with grasping Trump in the arena.
Pakistan could engage Iran on a brief of platitudes, incentives and assurances to moderate the temperature in the region. Pakistan could assuage their concerns by mutually securing shared boarders. Opening dialogue on question of stabilising Afghanistan and revival of stalled Gas pipeline project may be the right appetisers. For host of reasons, now demise of its incipient effort for reconciliation looks imminent. Confrontation or reconciliation and war or peace is now hostage to US. Intoxicated or emboldened by borrowed strength, Saudis may grow intransigent and averse to dictates of good sense. About Pakistan, they tend to take it granted. Our earlier instance of potential neutrality was viewed with ultra-skepticism. Now it seems that Pakistan itself would no longer sit on the bench for want of goodwill/gifts and fear of incurring their displeasure. Arguably US also wants Pakistan to followsame suit. The desire of both is a virtual command toour self-seeking ruling elite regardless of migraines it may cause at home. It is no one time exception rather a repeat performance. In case of Afghanistan, we had trumps. Now we hold worn out cards. Pakistan is in lurch between its two long boarders. Situation is unlikely to be no less different than before. Only we would get embroiled in cauldron of others. Our PMIs in hurry only to have photo and a separate hug with Trump even on sidelines. Rest can rest on mercy of circumstances.
— The writer, retired Lt Col, is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.