Dragging Pakistan into more Riyal-politik
The Saudi government’s image is deteriorating in Pakistan. The marketing of the Saudi kings as the guardians of the two holiest Muslim shrines is no more effective. The Saudi King is increasingly being seen as an American pawn on the Middle East chess board.
Washington’s long term policy about the region is based on maintaining the status quo in the Gulf region. This suits the western oil companies and ensures a free flow of the oil to the US and other industrialised nations. The US fear that popular forces demanding replacement of hereditary rulers by elected governments could lead to unforeseeable consequence. Poplar movements in the Gulf will for instance pose a problem for Israel, the US gendarme in the region. There are fears that elected governments might create problems for oil firms. The US is scared of any radical movement in the Gulf.
The principal concern of the US in the Gulf is a “stable Middle East”. Initially the US depended entirely on Israel to keep any radical forces at bay in the region. Israel still acts a potential gendarme to rein in forces considered undesirable by Washington. Israel is however handicapped in dealing with the Gulf countries and the Muslim world at large. The Zionist regime’s occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands and its continuous persecution of the Palestinian people have made it a target of hatred in the Muslim world. There would be a wave of resentment over any interference on the part of Israel to put down by force any popular and anti US movement.
The Saudi kingdom had already been helpful to the US. It had financed the Afghan jihad against the Soviet troops and helped in the recruitment of extremist elements from all over the world
The US first opted for Iran under the Shah as an alternative. The reliance on Shah’ Iran led some to call the country as sub-imperialism. As long as the Shah was in power, the Arab kings and sheikhs did not matter to the US. The Shah treated them with disdain.
With Iran coming under the control of the anti-US ayatollahs, the Gulf rulers assumed importance for the US. The first US choice was Iraq which was used to impose a war on Iran. But with Saddam becoming a potential challenge to Israel, the man had to be removed with the help of the Gulf regimes.
This done, the next choice was Egypt under Hosni Mubarak who commanded the largest Arab army and had become an important strategic partner of Israel. After Mubarak’s fall the Saudi king offered to lead the Gulf to ensure the maintenance of Pax Americana in the region.
The Saudi kingdom had already been helpful to the US. It had financed the Afghan jihad against the Soviet troops and helped in the recruitment of extremist elements from all over the world. Among the unintended results was the attack on the twin towers and the destabilisation caused by terrorist groups in Pakistan. Meanwhile the Saudi regime had developed a convergence of interests with Israel. Both found they had a common enemy in the form of Iran.
Despite this convergence of interests, Israeli-Saudi cooperation has to remain hush-hush as long as the Zionist-Arab conflict remains unresolved. Riyadh cannot maintain the posture of the guardian of the holy shrines if it was to openly launch a bilateral peace process with Israel.
The condolence on the death of King Abdullah by President Reuven Rivlin and his predecessor Shimon Peres are indicative of a greater Israeli understanding of Saudi Arabia’s importance to “Middle East stability.” The Salafi rulers look at the regional politics from sectarian glasses. There are both domestic and regional reasons for this.
The minority Shi’a community in Saudi Arabia is concentrated in the oil rich region of the country. While its shares the numerous restrictions imposed on Saudi citizens in general, it is also denied the right to publicly practice its sectarian practices. There is thus a widespread discontent among the Shi’a population in the kingdom. Several Gulf governments share their fear of the discontented Shi’a population, particularly the Saudi kingdom’s next door neighbour Bahrain, where the Shi’a majority is persecuted by the repressive regime headed by a Sheikh belonging to the Sunni minority.
The urge to establish hegemony over the region has given birth to rivalry between the Saudi regime and Iran. Being the keeper of the holiest shrines Riyadh can do things in the Gulf that Israel cannot.
The Saudi government sees the large Shi’a minority in Pakistan also as a threat. The Saudi kingdom is also driven by an urge to proselytise. Both tendencies have added to the unpopularity of the Saudi royalty in Pakistan where it is already seen to be hand in glove with the US and Israel.
The overwhelming majority of the Pakistani Muslims practices a moderate version of Islam. Even in united India the region now comprising Pakistan never witnessed any riots on cow slaughter or Hindu festivals. This is due to the teaching of the Sufi saints who converted local communities to Islam.
Despite this convergence of interests, Israeli-Saudi cooperation has to remain hush-hush as long as the Zionist-Arab conflict remains unresolved. Riyadh cannot maintain the posture of the guardian of the holy shrines if it was to openly launch a bilateral peace process with Israel
The Saudis introduced a hard line and sect sensitive Salafi version by setting up hundreds of new mosques and seminaries where highly paid prayer leaders and seminary organisers aggressively spread the imported sect.
The hatred against the Shi’a community generated by the seminaries and mosques set up with the Gulf donations created for the first time in the history of the country armed gangs who attacked Shi’a mosques and imambargahs. Some of these later helped create gangs of sectarian killers like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Muhammad and Jundullah.
The Shi’a minority in Pakistan comprises several millions and is well entrenched in society. It is duly represented in civil society, judiciary, bureaucracy and armed forces. Pakistani voters give little importance to religion or sect while choosing their representatives.
The Saudi invasion of Yemen will not be welcomed in Pakistan. Thousands of Pakistanis are currently working in Yemen. Any loss of life as a result of the bombardment or displacement will create resentment back home.
Pakistanis will not like to be a part of any war that further strengthens sectarianism or causes friction and disunity among the people of the country. The government will have to consider the dire consequences for it if it was seen to be pushing Pakistan into a conflict being waged with questionable motives.
The people of Pakistan have yet to recover from the after effects of the Afghan “jihad” waged to please the US with Saudi funds and encouragement. The so called jihad brought into existence terrorist groups who have killed around 50 thousand Pakistanis, both civilians and soldiers.
One can understand that the PML-N leadership has special relations with the Saudi royalty. Any move to get Pakistan involved in the conflict would cause division and conflict in society, which would not bode well for the future of the government.