Middle East: A Free-for-all Battlefield

Jamil Chughtai

WHILE the Middle East is already embroiled in terminal problems implanted by foreign interventionists like the US and divisive tactics from regional manipulator Israel, the Muslim states in and around Middle East by themselves are not at all ready to show any signs of sympathy for the region. Side by side the years of Saudi-Iran conflict over greater share of politico-religious control in the Mid-East, Turkey has also joined the bandwagon by launching air and ground campaigns in Syria to hit Kurdish YPG (Peoples Protection Units) positions declaring the outfit a terror group and the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party. While Turkish forces said to have killed scores of Kurd fighters and civilians in Afrin area during the last couple of weeks, US-led coalition’s latest air strikes consumed over 100 pro-regime fighters in eastern Syria. Ironically, the logics to justify each such campaign of aggression by both Muslims and non-Muslims trespassers have always been the restoration of peace in the region and greater good of the populace. Painfully though, the net outcome throughout been nothing else but the massacre of the innocent Syrians and lasting instability in the region.
It has been a matter of decades now that Middle East served as an open play-filed for countries from inside as well outside the region to meet their respective vested interests. Over the past fifty years the US has made politico-strategic forays into Muslim-dominated regions, however the Mideast has been the area of her special interest for variety of reasons. Besides the huge oil reserves that attracted the Americans in the region, it is the very obligation of safeguarding the interests, sovereignty and physical security of their foster child, the state of Israel, that surpasses everything in keeping the US fully engaged in the region. Besides proving its super power status to the world at large, America’s Middle East policy primarily revolves around oil and Israel. The invasion of Iraq has partly satisfied Washington’s cravings for oil, but for making Israel feel safer, the neighbouring Muslim states, such as Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Lebanon, needed to be made incapacitated both militarily and monetarily. The US did all this with overwhelming success.
From among the insiders, the Saudi–Iran proxy conflict is an ongoing struggle over geopolitical, economic and sectarian influence not only in the Middle East but also the regions surrounding the two sides. Iran and Saudi Arabia have provided varying degrees of support to opposing sides in regional conflicts, including the civil wars in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. This overt as well as covert rivalry also extends regularly to disputes in Bahrain, Lebanon, Qatar, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, as well as broader competition in North Africa, parts of South Asia, and Central Asia. Besides being at daggers drawn in Syria of today, one such regional battleground involving vested interests and the resultant unrest lies in Bahrain for decades. Saudi Arabia and Iran have sought to extend their respective sectarian influence in Bahrain since the majority of Muslims in Bahrain are Shia, while the country is ruled by the Sunni Al Khalifa family. The once covert Saudi-Iran conflict became obvious in 1981 when the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain led a failed coup attempt to install a Shia theocratic regime in the state. Bahrain, therefore, continues to serve as the bone of contention between Iran and Al Saud and thereby jeopardizes the prospects of peace in the Mideast.
Then came the novel idea of ‘the Arab Spring’ in 2011 administered by the West merely to destabilize Middle East by sparking a treacherous wave of revolution across the entire region as well as North Africa. The controversial uprising led to upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, and the outbreak of civil war in Libya and Syria. As feared before-hand, all the countries of the region that nibbled at the Arab Spring bait, are now reeling into unending chaos, public displacements and political instabilities. The latest divisive Saudi-Qatar episode had also some strings attached to US’ great game in the ME as the whole episode started soon after President Trump paid a visit to KSA and gave out some fine lines to be kowtowed immediately by the king. In short, all that happens in the ME seems to be part of a well-laid-out conspiracy game by the Western powers, and unfortunately the Muslim countries of the region keep falling prey to the same trap one after the other. The lingering rift between two important Muslim states, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, is a major factor that has kept the fires of hostilities burning in the Middle East besides allowing the foreign powers a regular inroads into the region to execute their conspiracy theories of creating crises-after-crisis, including ISIS maneuvers in Iraq and Syria, Hauthis insurgency in Yemen and the latest Saudi-Qatar imbroglio. It is the traditional Western strategy of “Divide and Dominate” under which first the rifts are created among major Muslim countries and then from such crisis, business worth billions of dollars is managed through sale of arms, ammunition and fighter aircraft to the warring Muslims states.
Certainly, there are regional as well as extra-regional elements of vested interest that keep fanning the issues and differences among Muslim countries in the Middle East. However, on top of everything, it is the US-Israel’s chronic discomfort over the prospects of Muslim unity that has always led this nexus to interfere in and around the region and disrupt all efforts aimed at reconciliation. The present scenario demands from the leading, and so far impartial, Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia to sincerely engage with and iron out differences between the major Muslim countries of the region. Honest and selfless endeavours to this effect would not only help initiate the process for restoration of peace in the otherwise highly hostile, volatile and explosive milieu of the Middle East but also enhance the prospects for greater unity of the entire Muslim Ummah some time in near future.

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