Dr Zafar N Jaspal
THE hysterical debate over the appointment of formal Chief of Army Staff as head of the 39-nation Islamic military alliance necessitates critical examination of the subject. Realistically, the contemporary terrorist organizations have been indoctrinating and recruiting from various countries. These organizations have facilitators, networks and sanctuaries in almost all Muslim States. The multinational traits of the terrorist syndicate makes impossible for an individual state to annihilate Al-Qaeda, Deash, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), TTP etc. alone. Thus, a collective security approach is imperative to protect the innocent Muslims from the brutality of radicalised transnational terrorist organizations.
According to the published information the Islamic Military Alliance primary objective is to eliminate the terrorist organizations, which have been undermining the national security of the Islamic states. The membership of the alliance reveals that the parties to the alliance are not against any state and sect or ideology. That’s why; Azerbaijan (85% of Azerbaijani Muslims profess Shia Islam while 15% are Sunni Muslims) is party to the alliance. So joining an alliance against terrorist groups neither create sectarian divided externally nor internally. On April 7, 2017, National Security Advisor Lt Gen Nasser Khan Janjua (Retd) pointed out: “The former COAS is not going as a Sunni army chief. He has good relations with Iran too.” Thus, branding alliance a Sunni alliance is an attempt to create sectarian polarization within the Pakistani society.
The critical examination of the Government of National Action Plan and its external approach towards the transnational radicalised groups reveals that Pakistani ruling elite is very much cognizant to the objectives of the alliance. The alliance would only annihilate the criminal transnational non-state organizations(s)—terrorist groups, such as, Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, IMU, IJU, TTP, etc. Hence, Pakistan being a member of the alliance will not harm or work against the national interest of Iran. Instead, Islamabad may play a reconciliatory role in bridging the gap between Saudi Arab and Iran.
Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa reiterated that Pakistan would not act against Iran. Hence, Pakistan’s joining the multinational Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism is neither against any particular state including Iran nor it would hurt the unity of Islamic countries. Moreover, one needs to understand the fact that multinational alliances, agreements, treaties, etc. contains withdrawal clause. Therefore, if the 39-nations military alliance deviates from its original mandate, Pakistan will use the withdrawal clause and will immediately leave the alliance.
Ironically, despite Islamabad’s assurances, Tehran expressed its reservation on the appointment of the General Sharif. On April 4, 2017, Iran’s Ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost stated: “We are concerned about this issue… that it may impact the unity of Islamic countries.” Indeed, it’s the perspective of Tehran expressed by the Ambassador. Though, the satisfaction of Tehran is important, yet it does not mean that for the sake of Iranians or Saudis satisfaction Islamabad compromise on its own sovereign decision-making that is vital for guarding and maximizing its own national interest.
In the community of nations, the nation-state always pursues its own national interest. Therefore, the foreign policy makers critically examine both short and long term consequences of the inter-state relations. Therefore, the Pakistanis have to realize that they have to pursue the national interest of their own state instead Iran or Saudi Arab. Perhaps, good relations with the neighbouring states are imperative for the security and prosperity of the state. The sovereign states, however, does not compromise on their sovereign decisions making just for the sake of pleasing the neighbouring country.
Many opine that the appointment of the retired Pakistani General would annoy Tehran. But they failed to recall that Iran has defence pact with India since November 2003. It was revitalized in 2009. It’s an open secret that Iran has been facilitating India in the materialization of its sea, road and railway connection with Central Asian states through Afghanistan. For instance, in 2014 India invested more than 85 million US dollars at Chabahar port. Did Pakistan express its concerns over the cementing strategic relationship between Iran and India? One cannot recall any negative reaction of Pakistan on Iran’s facilitating role in augmenting Afghanistan and India bilateral multifaceted relations. Nonetheless, Islamabad remained unconcerned by the Iran’s deal with India and Afghanistan over the Chabahar port
Pakistan is one of the biggest victims of terrorism. Since 2001, its law enforcement agencies have been fighting with the multinational terrorists groups. Therefore, the government of Pakistan not only condemns terrorism, but it also actively participates in the efforts destined to obliterate the menace of terrorism. Perhaps, Government’s permission to General Raheel Sharif to head the military alliance is an act of reconfirmation its commitment with the war on terrorism. To conclude, Islamabad ought to adopt a strict bilateral policy towards both Tehran and Riyadh. Neither Saudis nor Iranians should be allowed to interfere in the making of Pakistan foreign policy. Pakistan is a sovereign state and thereby its decisions shall be independent from the diktats of the external powers as well as the fifth column that is operative within the Pakistani society.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.