S R H Hashmi
SUNNI-Shia rivalry has played havoc within the Muslim world. And the tragic result of this infighting is that the Ummah, comprising 1.60 billion Muslims in over fifty states carries no weight at the international level. And having wasted its resources in this rivalry and infighting, it is in no position to face its real enemies. And it has got to such a stage where some Muslim countries are aligning with avowed enemies of Muslims against a fellow Muslim state. In these circumstances, it is heartening to learn that Imran Khan has offered his services to play a constructive and positive role between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the main combatants by proxy.
The occasion was the Iranian Ambassador Mehdi Honardoost’s visit to Bani Gala to congratulate Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman on his party’s victory in the 2018 general elections. Ambassador Honardoost also conveyed good wishes from Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. “Iran is ready to cooperate with Pakistan in regional development, and is also keen to expand trade with Pakistan,” the ambassador said. He also expressed his desire to negotiate with Pakistan on the Iran Pakistan gas pipeline project, adding the pipeline can change the future of Pakistan. And taking a bold stand, Imran Khan has also declared that he will enhance trade and investment ties with Iran unmindful of the threatened US sanctions on Iran. This is quite in line with the stand taken by many countries including Switzerland as well as the European Union countries.
In their joint statement, the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, together with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, and British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said “We deeply regret the re-imposition of sanctions by the U.S., due to the latter’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)” adding “We are determined to protect European economic operators engaged in legitimate business with Iran, in accordance with EU law and UN Security Council Resolution 2231.” This Sunni-Shia rivalry is the biggest single factor which has played a damaging role in destabilising the Middle East, while doing substantial damage to Yemen, where the poor country has been brought to the stage of a famine.
And there could be yet more devastation in the region if the US plans to inflict further damage on Iran, by an Arab-Israeli coalition succeed. However, instead of involving the US forces directly in the fight against Iran, Donald Trump has decided to weaken Iran though sanctions and for the the final kill, he would much prefer to use the Sunni Muslim countries in the region. And Trump has already floated the idea of Arab NATO led by Saudi Arabia for which purpose the US would even sell its outdated missile shield systems and other armaments to the Arab NATO countries. And after the Sunni and Shia countries have devastated each other sufficiently, the US would step in to equip the Sunni armies again by selling them more armaments, to replace those destroyed in their fighting.
And of course the only beneficiaries would be the US arms seller and Israel which may feel encouraged to take over some more of the Arab land. Now Imran Khan, as the head of a nuclear-armed country which has good relations with both Sunni Muslim countries of the region as well as with Iran, is in a strong position to mediate between the two sides and to make them agree to a deal whereby none of them interferes in the affairs of others. Perhaps a special unit could be established within OIC to ensure this and also to deal firmly with any real or suspected violation of the non-interference clause. And Pakistan could sign the deal as a guarantor.In any case, already leading a multi-nation Sunni Muslim Alliance, Saudi Arabia faces no real threat from Iran which is being squeezed by Donald Trump through sanctions. And the matter of firing of missiles from Yemen against the Saudi Arabia, and the real or imagined support by Iran to Houthi militia can also be sorted out through negotiations, and the poor country given a reprieve instead of suffering endlessly in this Shia-Sunni tussle for supremacy in the region. Looking back at the fairly recent history , we note how savagely some European countries had fought each other. And now, the same countries have learned to live peacefully together, with the best of cooperation between them, in place of the old rivalry and fighting. And this has benefited them all.
So, there is absolutely no reason why Muslims can not learn from them and develop suitable mechanism to sort out their differences through peaceful means. That course is surely preferable to letting matters aggravate to a state where wars become indispensable; wars that solve no problem and only lead to more wars. So, it is really gratifying to learn that Imran Khan has offered his services as mediator between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Additionally, in his victory speech, Imran Khan has extended a hand of friendship to all our neighbours, including India, and to the world at large. Surely, with countries like China and Russia, all countries in the region, including India, do not have to look beyond the region for their needs. Indeed, it would be criminal to align with the distant countries against a country in the region, like India presently seems to be doing by aligning with the United States against China and Pakistan. It is about time we all developed a ‘spirit of live and let live’, with all countries in the region and beyond, big or small, respecting each other’s territorial integrity instead of creating frictions and undermining each other. Let us hope good sense prevails.
– The writer is senior political analyst based in Karachi.