The recently-concluded Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Saudi Arabia has apparently deepened the Shia-Sunni sectarian fault lines in the Middle East, the most troubled and volatile part in the world. Attended by the leaders and representatives of 55 Muslim countries across the world, this Summit was ‘co-chaired’ by the US President Donald Trump, who also remained the center of attention during the Summit meeting at Riyadh. The exhaustive speech made by him visibly eclipsed the apparent agenda of the Summit as well as its participants. It was really strange to see President Donald Trump, an Islamophobe who is best known for his signature phrase ‘radical Islamic terrorism’, being warmly welcomed and greeted by the Muslim leaders on the very Muslim Holy Land.

The nomenclature of the ‘Arab-Islamic-American Summit’ looks a bit strange, confusing and rather self-contradictory. Nevertheless, this Summit has helped significantly diluting the numerous confusions and ambiguities shrouding the much-hyped Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT), the so-called Muslim NATO. Now there is hardly any ambiguity as to the nature and objective of this military alliance. Moreover, we can also conveniently predict which country is going to spearhead it.

In fact, the US played a pivotal role in holding the recent Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Saudi Arabia. It has also helped Saudi Arabia establish a state-of-the-art Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyadh. Similarly, it inked a $110 billion arms sales agreement with Saudi Arabia to adequately equip the IMAFT. These facts essentially show how proactively the US is going to redefine and reshape its engagements in the Middle East. So it will alone call the shots in the region after finalising nitty-gritty of the IMAFT. Similarly, it will also determine the future trajectory of this military alliance to accomplish its broader geo-strategic goals in the Middle East. While doing so, it would also ignore altogether its obligations under the nuclear deal concluded between Iran and the so-called P5+1 countries in 2015.

Noticeably, the anti-Iran rhetoric continued to grip President Trump’s recent visit to the Middle East. The typical “Iranophobia” also became the central theme of the Summit. While renouncing the growing extremism and terrorism in the Middle East in general, Saudi Arabia and the US, the two principal organisers of the Summit, remained focused on Iran which has already been declared as “world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism”. Blaming Iran for training and equipping the armed groups in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, President Trump called on the Muslim leaders to isolate Iran. He also praised the GCC countries for designating the Iran-backed Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. Similarly, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bashed Iran for exporting extremist Islamic movements to the world since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Therefore, carefully analysing this Summit, we can easily infer that the ‘containment of Iran’ in the Middle East is the primary objective of the IMAFT.

Soon after attending the crucial Summit in Saudi Arabia, President Trump visited Israel for second leg of his Middle East trip, where he, along-with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, readily resorted to some anti-Iran rhetoric once again. On the other hand, while out-rightly rejecting the ‘terror allegations’ made against it, Iran has accused the US of spreading ‘Iranophobia’ and selling arms to ‘dangerous terrorists’ in the Middle East. It has also explained that durable peace in this region could not be maintained without the active support and participation of Iran. It is indeed regrettable that certain anti-Iran sentiments are steadily growing in the Arab countries while a moderate leader like Hassan Rouhani has managed to get reelected in Iran.

The 1979 Iranian Revolution substantially influenced the Middle East. Post-revolution Iran took a hardline position against the Jewish state and the imperialist policies of the US in the world. Iran also actively raised a voice for the Palestinians’ rights and their freedom. Similarly, the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war was another crucial event in this region. It was an asymmetrical war in which the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia inflicted a humiliating defeat on Israel, the greatest military power in the region, for the first time. Therefore, the current anti-Iran stance of the US and Israel are quite understandable. Now Iran’s intended nuclear programme and its alleged state-sponsored terrorism have become the major issue in the Middle East.

Preserving the territorial integrity of the Jewish state has been the cornerstone of the US foreign policy in the Middle East. Therefore, at present, marginalizing the rising influence of Iran and pro-Iran elements has become the primary US strategic goal in this region. For many years, the US has been actively trying to topple the pro-Iran Assad regime in Syria. However, owing to strong opposition posed by Russia and Iran, the US had to give up its plan to dislodge Bashar al-Assad in Syria through military force in 2013. However, as soon as the US abandoned this plan, there instantly emerged the militant outfit ISIS to accomplish same task in Syria and Iraq. It is widely believed that the ISIS and its affiliates are being sponsored by the US and GCC countries. Observably, the Iran, Russia and pro-Iran militias are offering maximum resistance to the ISIS militants but the US and GCC countries never launched any significant military onslaught against them.

While enjoying the military support of Russia, Iran and various Shia militias, the Syrian and Iraqi armed forces have succeeded in substantially containing ISIS in Iraq and Syria. During the last few months, they successfully retrieved the strategically important cities like Aleppo in Syria, and Fallujah and Mosul in Iraq. Now the ISIS activists are withdrawing from these areas. Therefore, at this stage, there is hardly any need to form such a multinational military alliance against the ISIS as it has already been defeated by its conventional opponents in the region. So it is being speculated that the Saudi-led military alliance is only meant for opening another fresh war front against the Iran and pro-Iran elements in the Middle East in the name of fighting terrorism. It is very likely that the US would try to exploit IMAFT against Iran and pro-Iran militias like Hezbollah after equating them with the ISIS.

In fact, a military alliance like IMAFT can’t actively function without a multilateral Islamic forum like the OIC. In the absence of any significant Pan-Islamist ideology, the front-runners of the IMAFT will tend to exploit this military muscle to serve their own selfish interests in the region. Therefore, the important Islamic countries, especially the D8 countries, should play a positive role in minimising the Arab-Iran conflict and rivalry in the Middle East rather than blindly follow Saudi Arabia, which has now become an instrument to articulate and achieve the strategic goals of the US and Israel in the region after burying the concept of Muslim Ummah.

Presently, Pakistan is not only an important component of the IMAFT but a veteran Pakistani ex-general is also commanding this controversial military alliance. Finally the cat is out of the bag as far as the real objective of the IMAFT is concerned. Therefore, now Pakistan should seriously review its earlier decision of unthinkingly and hastily joining this mysterious and ambiguous military alliance. Obviously it should not become part of this US-led anti-Iran military maneuver. In the face of current geo-strategic realities in the region, Pakistan can hardly afford to let its already-troubled relations with Iran further deteriorate.

At the moment, Pakistan’s international diplomacy is at low ebb. It has miserably failed to diplomatically handle the Kulbhushan Yadav case. Pakistan must not repeat its past mistakes by internalising the external issues as it has been doing in 1980s. Of course, discretion should be the better part of valour. Pakistan direly needs to focus on its domestic counter terror efforts. If Pakistan is unable to play a positive role in pacifying this troubled region, then it should at least refrain from becoming part of the Middle Eastern follies.