M Fazal Elahi
THE Pakistan media, like the world media and media of the Arab world, was abuzz with news pertaining to the first summit of the new Islamic Military Counterterrorism Coalition (IMCTC), also referred as Islamic Military Alliance (IMA), which kicked off and concluded in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Sunday, November 26, 2017. The distinguished Saudi Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman was at the helm at the grand event in which reportedly, some 41 Islamic countries were represented.
In his inaugural address, after opening the first high-level meeting of the KSA-led Alliance of Muslim nations against terrorism, vowed and said that the extremists will no longer “tarnish our beautiful religion.” Mohammed bin Salman’s words came as the Islamic State (IS) group, which kindled the creation of the Alliance, has been driven out of Iraq and lost its self-described capital in Syria. What, however, was glaringly noticeable was the conspicuous absence of Iran, Iraq and Syria from the meeting, because the Alliance, as reported in the media, does not include these 3 countries. Qatar was noticeably absent from the meeting in spite of being a member of the alliance. It is believed that Qatar did not send its representative to attend the one-day Riyadh meet due to the diplomatic standoff between Doha and four Arab nations led by the kingdom.
Addressing the Defence Ministers and other high-ranking officials, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the first meeting of the IMA sends “a strong signal that we are going to work together and coordinate together to support each other.” “The biggest danger of this terrorism and extremism is tarnishing the reputation of our beloved religion. … We will not allow this to happen,” Prince Salman emphasized. “Today we start the pursuit of terrorism and we see its defeat in many facets around the world especially in the Muslim countries. … We will continue fighting it until we see its defeat,” he further stressed.
Expressing his views at the summit, Pakistan’s former army chief and the coalition’s military commander, Gen Raheel Sharif said “A number of our member countries are under tremendous pressure while fighting well established terrorist organizations due to capacity shortages of their armed forces and law enforcement agencies. Highlighting the fundamental objective of the Alliance he said IMA will act as a platform to assist member countries in their counter-terrorism operations through intelligence sharing and capacity building.” Gen. Raheel Sharif further said that while all individual states were making unparalleled efforts to deal with the menace of terrorism, the required level of synergy and resources was lacking.
One couldn’t agree more with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when he says “The biggest danger of terrorism and extremism is tarnishing of the reputation of our beloved religion.” One would also be inclined to agree with General Raheel Sharif, the coalition military commander when he says “Fight against the faceless enemy with extremist ideology is complex and challenging, and requires collaboration.” Unambiguously, collaboration among Islamic countries is a crucial factor in effectively dealing with menace of extremism and terrorism. It is critically significant when seen in background of inability of Islamic countries to deal with it individually, due to lack of resources.
What, however, must be closely monitored and evaluated by the Alliance members is the response of the powers that be to the creation of IMA, formed to counter the perils of terrorism in the Muslim world. Predictably, the US and its allies in particular would look at this military coalition of the Islamic countries from a different perspective. They may consider it as emergence of a new, cohesive and cogent Islamic power burgeoning to make room for itself in the map of the world. If that turns out to be the case then they would not wholeheartedly support the creation of the IMA. They may, to the contrary, start taking covert measures to undo the coalition, through every possible means, as quickly as possible.
The IMA is in its embryonic stage. It would, therefore, not only be too early but also unjust to predict its effectiveness and success. In view of the foregoing reality the nascent alliance, to avoid the cryptic endeavors of the powerful western nations of the world to water down its existence, will have to move extremely cautiously and judiciously. It would have to ensure that it would, under no circumstances, violate parameters of it basic mandate; “mobilising and coordinating use of resources, facilitating the exchange of information, and helping member countries build their own counter-terrorism capacity,” to effectively eradicate terrorism from their soil. Any attempt, deliberate or inadvertent, to deviate from this mandate would not only weaken alliance, it may also seriously put its existence at stake.
Pakistan, also a member of the recently constituted Islamic Military Counterterrorism Coalition (IMCTC), can play a positive role in ensuring that cohesiveness among the coalition members is aptly ensured and the mandate of the Alliance is strictly adhered to. With Pakistan’s former army chief, General Raheel Sharif at the helm as coalition commander attainment of this vital goal shouldn’t prove to be very difficult. It must be ensured that Pakistan doesn’t become a party to any aggressive designs of the Alliance, if any, against any Islamic State, at any time, as it will be outright breach of the fundamental mandate of the Alliance. It goes without saying that any such escapade on the part of the Alliance would, for sure, put relations of Pakistan, a country already brutally battered by the menace of terrorism, with those countries at stake.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.