Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
THE continuity of crisis among the Arab nations is demoralising for the entire Muslim community. The rationality demands its resolution, immediately. The longevity of the current conflict among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members not only deteriorates the Arab nations national security, but also creates political and economic problems for the neighbouring states, including Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan, Turkey, and Kuwait had attempted to persuade the conflicting parties to resolve their differences through dialogue. Regrettably, Trump Administration’s complex response to crisis endangered the entire region.
Feud between Qatar and its neighbouring Arab states has been brewing for years. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic relations and attempted to impose an economic boycott of Qatar on June 5, 2017. Saudi Arab, Bahrain and UAE cut air, sea, and land links and ordered Qatari diplomats and citizens to leave their countries within two weeks. Egypt, however, refrained from calling back its nearly 250,000 nationals working in Qatar. In addition, Yemen, Maldives and the pro-UAE faction that controls east of Libya quickly followed suit.
Qatar is a tiny-yet-wealthy peninsular Arab state. It has been endeavouring to maintain autonomy in the region. Its independent foreign policy making and support to the Islamic movements irritates its neighbouring Arab states. They consider Doha’s policies very detrimental for their national security. The Saudi led coalition collective decision to siege Qatar was officially justified as part of these nations’ apparently fights against terrorism. They accused Qatar for supporting terrorist groups including the IS (Daesh), al-Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood. On June 12, 2017, in a joint statement Saudi Arabia and its allies also announced the placing of 59 individuals and 12 organizations on a “terror list”. The terror list includes Qatari and Qatar-based businessmen, government officials, members of Qatar’s ruling Al Thani family, exiled Egyptian cleric Yusuf Al Qaradawi, etc. Qatar formerly declared the allegations baseless.
The United States role in the Arab conflict is pessimistic. Washington has strategic relations with both Riyadh and Doha. Instead of encouraging the conflicting parties to resolve their differences through dialogue, Trump administration is fanning the flames of hostility in the region. On June 6, 2017, president Trump praised Saudi led coalition actions against Qatar. He tweeted: “During my recent trip to the Middle East, I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar—look!” While endorsing the economic blockade of Qatar, he declared it is beginning of the end of terrorism. Instantaneously, the senior officials of Trump Administration took a different stance. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson stated: “We call on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to ease the blockade against Qatar.” Many analysts concluded that Trump Administration failed to articulate a coordinated Washington position on the current Arab crisis. Conversely, many opined that Trump administration is deliberately infuriating the differences among the Arab nations for its Middle Eastern agenda.
Presently, Americans are interested to isolate and contain Iran’s influence in the region, combat terrorist’s organizations and sell their surplus military hardware to the Arab nations. Qatar’s increasing economic cooperation with Iran discomforts the United States. The synchronization of Doha and Tehran economic relations, certainly, thwart Trump initiative to isolate Iran. Whereas, Qatar seems determined to continue its economic relations with Iran. It is because both states share exploration rights of world’s largest gas field— 9,700-sq-km expanse that holds at least 43 trillion cubic metres of gas reserves deep in the Gulf waters. Hence, the Qatar siege by its neighboring states may compel Doha to alter its Iran policy. Detaching Qatar from Iran, certainly, assist United States in isolating Iran.
Washington is cashing in on the Arab Gulf conflict. It is selling its surplus weapons to the Arab states. On June 14, 2017, the US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis and his Qatari counterpart Khalid al-Attiyah signed a letter of agreement for a $12-billion sale of US-manufactured F-15 fighters. Pentagon statement pointed out: “The $12-billion sale will give Qatar a state-of-the-art capability and increase security cooperation and interoperability between the United States and Qatar.” Last month, United States agreed to sell $350 billion worth weapons to Saudi Arab in 10 years. Precisely, Washington is profiting from selling lethal arms to both Riyadh and Doha. To conclude, Washington seems more interested in selling weapons to Riyadh and Doha instead of stabilising the strategic environment of the region.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
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