After a brief initial denial, the Foreign Office spokesperson has confusingly confirmed Pakistan’s participation in the proposed Saudi-led anti-terror military alliance. Earlier in last week, the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Muhammad Bin Salman formally announced the formation of 34-state ‘Islamic military alliance’ to ‘coordinate’ efforts to fight terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan. With joint headquarters located In Riyadh, the proposed military alliance will endeavour to “protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organidations’’.

Strangely, the Saudi government did not even bother to specifically mention the name of Middle Eastern monster ISIS whose terrorist activities have become a matter of serious concern not only for the Muslim countries but also the entire world community. The specifics regarding the operational strategy, anti-terror modus operandi, command and control and composition of the proposed alliance are still being awaited. The countries like Pakistan, Malaysia and Lebanon also expressed their surprise over including them in this alliance without their permission, or even a prior knowledge. The ambiguous and controversial launch of this military alliance is sufficient to predict its immediate effectiveness and future relevance.

In fact, the instant decision made by Pakistan to join this mysterious military alliance has raised many eyebrows in the country. The ISPR has yet not officially reacted to this important development. However, now it is also being speculated the COAS General Raheel Sharif had already pledged military support to the Saudis for the future military alliance during his last month’s visit to Saudi Arabia. The Pak-Saudi joint military exercise Al Shihab-1 has also recently been concluded in Pakistan. Suggesting a ‘global response’ to Daesh in Middle East, the DG ISPR has already declared that Pakistan would not send its troops for any mission outside the region. The current silence maintained by the government over this issue is not understandable as Pakistan has been pursuing the policy of non-involvement and non-interference in the intra-Arabs conflicts for a long time. Essentially in accordance with this policy, Pakistan has refused to join the Saudi-led military coalition against Yemen this year as well as the recently-proposed US-led global military alliance against the ISIS after last month’s Paris attacks.

The UN Security Council, through its Resolution 2249, authorized a global military campaign against the ISIS in Iraq and Syria following the deadly Paris attacks last month. Nevertheless, we have yet not witnessed a befitting global response to significantly curb ISIS militancy in the Syria and Iraq. Soon after the Paris incident, the Russia-Turkey confrontation instantly triggered when Turkey downed a Russian jet in its territory. After this, the California firing incident in the US attracted the considerable global attention. These two consecutive incidents somehow eclipsed the Paris Incident diluting the global resolve to fight against ISIS in the Middle East.

Presently, the Russia-Iran-Hezbollah Axis is proactively and physically fighting against the ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Now the US and Saudi Arabia are going to lead two parallel military alliances in the Middle East apparently to contain ISIS. Strangely, both countries have unanimously decided to deliberately keep the conventional opponents of ISIS, the Russia, Iran and pro-Iran forces, away from the proposed military coalitions. This dichotomy is absolutely incomprehensible. Previously, in order to conveniently defeat its enemies, the US has extensively exploited anti-Taliban factions in Afghanistan and anti-Saddam elements in Iraq. The current non-inclusive strategy adopted by the front-runners of both military alliances necessarily shows their sincerity and seriousness to eliminate ISIS in this region.

As a matter of fact, instant extinction of ISIS in Iraq and Syria is not in line with the broader strategic interests of the United States, Turkey and GCC countries including the Saudi Arabia. The US and GCC countries are actively opposing the Iran and pro-Iran elements in the region, namely the Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah. Similarly, Turkey has also been deeply concerned about the rising influence and strength of Kurds in this region. Therefore, these countries would hardly wish to eliminate ISIS which is effectively serving their national objectives. There have also been many conspiracy theories regarding the pioneer role played by certain global powers and Israel in the formation of ISIS in the Middle East. Similarly, it is also a known fact that Saudi Arabia has been providing moral and material support to the ISIS affiliates. Recently, Russia has also accused Turkey of supporting ISIS monetarily by secretly purchasing oil from it.

In the late 1960s, various Muslims visionary leaders, including the King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, sagaciously decided to establish the OIC, an all-inclusive organisation of Muslim states to safeguard the interests of Muslim World. Saudi Arabia, being the custodian of two holiest places, has been enjoying the unequivocal support and utmost respect in the Muslim world. Regrettably, instead of playing a pivotal role in fostering peace and brotherhood within the Muslim Ummah, it deliberately pursued such selfish policies which have been instrumental in the ideological and sectarian polarisation of the polity. Over a period of time, it has developed a fierce rivalry and enmity with the Iran. In its hate and antagonism for Iran, it has gone to such extent that now it feels no hesitation at all to join hands with a Zionist state like Israel to harm Iran. Therefore, sharing a common enemy- Iran, both Saudi Arabia and Israel have become s sort of strategic allies in the Middle East. This is the very reason both countries strongly and aggressively opposed the Iran Nuclear Deal Framework brokered by so-called P5+1 countries this year.

Rendering the OIC an ineffective, inoperative and toothless body, Saudi Arabia and its satellite Gulf States have chosen to fortify their positions in the region by establishing the organisations like GCC and Peninsula Security Force. In this way, the so called Pan-Islamism has deliberately been replaced by ‘Pan-Gulfism’. Saudi Arabia has also played an important role in fueling proxy wars in many Middle Eastern countries. It is also frequently blamed for promoting its religious ideology and supporting a particular sectarian group in many Muslim countries. Some months ago, it also exhibited irresponsible behaviour while attacking a small neighbouring Muslim state Yemen making things even worse to the disadvantage of helpless Yemeni people. Now what is the moral foundation for the ‘divine right’ of Saudi Arabia to lead the Muslim world? What will be the credibility of the proposed Saudi-led military alliance? It is being feared that Saudi Arabia will selfishly exploit this alliance to advance its strategic agenda in the region.

Owing to multiple reasons, the bilateral relations between Pakistan and Iran have long been strained. Taking advantage from this ‘Pak-Iran bilateral vacuum’, India has now fostered close relations with Iran to the disadvantage of Pakistan. India has also successfully secured a land access to Afghanistan through Iran. Now India has also connected the Afghanistan to the outside world through Iran’s Chabahar port, minimising the land-locked country’s dependence on Pakistan. Over the last couple of years, India has substantially consolidated its position in Afghanistan primarily to destabilise Pakistan through various disruptive terrorist activities. Had Pakistan developed close relationship with Iran, India would have not gotten the opportunity to fortify itself in Afghanistan. Regrettably, obsessed with idea of fostering close ties with the oil-rich ‘leader of Muslim Ummah’, Pakistan’s strategists and foreign policy formulators have constantly been ignoring this resource-rich and strategically-crucial Muslim neighbouring state. At this stage, Pakistan’s participation in the proposed Saudi-led military alliance will irk Iran making things worse for us in the region, particularly in Afghanistan, undermining our domestic counter- terror efforts.

At present, in the face of grave internal security challenges and volatile regional security situation, Pakistan can hardly afford to actively join the shady and ambiguous military alliance led by Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. Therefore, Pakistan should keep sticking to its current policy of non-involvement in the Middle Eastern conflicts. Pakistan’s active military cooperation should only confined to protect the holy places in Saudi Arabia. Besides this, Pakistan should also support all the serious global military efforts to fight terrorism in the Middle East under the umbrella of the UN.