Dr Muhammad Khan
In order to fight against and defeat the growing menace of terrorism, 34 Muslim countries military alliance was established under Saudi Arabia in mid December, 2015. The immediate goal set for this military alliance was to; fight against the Islamic State or Daesh, a terrorist organization, emerged from the ashes of Al-Qaeda. Though this military alliance has participation from almost all regions of the Muslim countries, yet three significant regional countries; Iran, Iraq and Syria have not been included in the alliance. This selective participation of the alliance created misunderstanding about the future role, whether; it is only against the terrorism.
The first demonstration of this military alliance was a major military exercise in the northern region of Saudi Arabia, near Iraq and Iranian border. As per military and strategic expert of Middle East, Col. Ibrahim Al-Marie, the Joint Military Exercise, ‘North Thunder’ was conducted with three broad objectives in view. These objectives include; one, ‘to protect the joint security of the Gulf, Arab and Islamic states’, two, ‘to increase combat readiness’ and three, ‘to coordinate joint operations between participating forces.’
The military drill, ‘North Thunder’ is said to have achieved its goals set for the future operation and cooperation. It was participated by militaries of twenty countries with 150,000 combat troops, 2540 aircrafts, 20,000 tanks and 460 helicopters. In fact, it was the biggest military exercise in the entire Middle East, attained highest level of military cooperation and coordination among the Muslims all around; the Asians as well as the Africans. Attainment of the military cooperation can be directly attributed to political unity among the wider Muslim community.
A manifestation was seen in the form of presence of many heads of states and governments at the concluding session of this military maneuver. However, the absence of Iran, Iraq and Syria from the alliance and military drill gave way to a varied perception about the total unity among the Muslim Community. Rather, the other view from the experts of international relations is that, this alliance and military exercise thereafter indeed, was meant against Iran and its growing regional influence, thus, portray an alliance of a major Muslim school of thought. This school of thought feels that, rather unifying the Muslims, this alliance is the formal initiation of a rip among the Muslim countries, based on ideological crack.
Besides, the selection of site for the North Thunder military exercise, ‘Hafr Al-Batin’ near Syrian and Iranian border and adjacent to Iraq meant to send a clear message to Iran and its regional allies to stop their activities and influences over the population. It is worth mentioning that, Hafr Al-Batin’ is located 430 km north of Riyadh and 94.2 km from the Kuwaiti border. According to a regional analyst; Hamdan Al-Shehri, “The maneuver, which is a strong message for Iran, seeks to unify the military forces of Arab and Islamic countries. It is the first real maneuver after the Kingdom’s announcement of the formation of a 34-nation Islamic alliance against terrorism last December.”
The successful accomplishment of the military maneuver in the Kingdom, ‘North Thunder’ has provoked the 34 countries alliance to re-form and re-constitute it on the format of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This idea is rapidly taking shape and there are debates over its feasibility or otherwise. Nevertheless, the 34 countries alliance is a reality at least for the time being. The frustrating clause of this alliance is; would there be a ‘Warsaw Pact’ thereafter? Since NATO came into being in April 1949, based on collective defence system, where members agreed for the mutual defense in the wake of any attack by external forces or party, the Soviet Union mainly. The Warsaw Pact, a treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and mutual assistance was also based on the concept of collective defense, established in 1955; its rival was US and NATO.
The rivalry among the two alliances worked well, till the dissolution of Warsaw Pact in 1991, after disintegration of former Soviet Union. There remained proxy wars and arms race throughout the cold war; 1945 to 1991. Both blocs; the US led West (Capitalist) and USSR led East (Communist) had their allies strongly bonded and indeed strictly controlled. The peculiarities of both blocs were that, they had their weapons and armaments of their own origin through their strong industrial bases, which are still intact and looking for the purchasers. In the case of Muslims, there exist neither the strong defense industrial bases nor the needed technology for the development of such industry. They heavily bank over the west for their defence equipment and requisite technology. This fact is equally applicable for Saudi led alliance and Iran.
As per US defence experts, the share of GCC countries in the total purchase of weapons and equipment from US based defense complex is over 24% in last two decades. Some of GCC countries are among the top purchaser of the defense equipment from United Sates and West. After nuclear deal and easing of sanctions, Iran will have excess for the purchase of modern weaponry from these western countries, since it has very professional armed forces. Then, there will an excuse too, provided by the Saudi led Military alliance. The new alliance system in the Middle East may initiate another arms race for the revival of the defence complexes of US and West, a strong desire of these Capitalist Lords.
The statesmen and intellectual class of the Muslim countries must debate these aspects, before a ‘Muslim NATO and Muslim Warsaw Pact’ become a reality, which indeed will serve the purpose of all, except Muslims at large.
— The writer is International Relations analyst based in Islamabad.