Pakistan’s Balancing Role in Middle East and Dual Strategy

By Sajjad ShaukatPM’s China visit

Pakistan’s military capabilities qualify it to play a balancing role in the Muslim World in general and the Middle East in particular.

In this regard, rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran widened in the aftermath of the execution of the prominent Shia religious leader Nimr al-Nimr as part of Riyadh’s executions of 47 persons on terrorism charges, on January 2, this year. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries like Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, including Sudan broke off diplomatic relations with Iran.

The long rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran has come to a boiling point, as rulers and religious leaders of both the countries were accusing each other of promoting sectarian divide in the Islamic World on the Shia-Sunni basis, while manipulating Arab-non-Arab differences.

In this respect, on January 5, 2016, the Adviser to Pakistan’s Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz said before the National Assembly. Pakistan is concerned over recent tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran…the Muslim World faces grave dangers in the situation.”

The statement follows criticism from opposition parties which lashed out at the government in the National Assembly for not coming up with a clear stance on the situation arising out in the region because of the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran and called for a parliamentary briefing on the issue. Aziz also gave an in-camera briefing to the National Assembly on the Saudi-Iran tensions.

Aziz maintained that Pakistan will continue to play its positive role to ease tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia and it advocates unity among the Muslim countries.

For the purpose, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif had visited Saudi Arabia and Iran. They held meetings with their rulers in a bid to defuse tensions between the two countries. They called for resolution of the crisis through peaceful means in the larger interest of the Muslim world.

According to the ISPR, during the meeting in Riyadh, Gen. Raheel highlighted Pakistan’s perspective on the Middle East situation and pointed out, “Due to the situation in Middle East, the Muslim Ummah is weakening,” and “stressed the need for opening up the communication channel between Saudi Arabia and Iran.”

Speaking to media in Tehran after meeting Iranian President HasanRouhani and his cabinet members, the prime minister said Pakistan had achieved success in normalizing ties between the two countries in 1997 and also played the same role during tensions between Iran and Iraq.

He said, “Pakistan will appoint a focal person on Saudi-Iran issue and sincere efforts are being done in this regard.”

In his meeting with the Iranian Defence Minister Hosse Dehghan in Islamabad, Gen. Raheel Sharif reiterated that “Pakistan takes Iran as a very important neighbouring Muslim country and the people of Pakistan have a great affinity with their Iranian brothers.” The Iranian defence minister thanked Gen. Raheel and the people of Pakistan for their efforts to bolster regional security.

While, during the trip of Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince and defence minister, Mohammed bin Salman at Islamabad, Pakistan’s prime minister and chief of army staff had assured him to defuse tension between the two brother countries. His visit came just four days after the kingdom’s Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir visited Islamabad.

It is notable that some media analysts had misinterpreted the statements of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Gen. Raheel Sharif that during their interactions with the rulers of Saudi Arabia, they preferred Riyadh over Tehran by reiterating that “the people of Pakistan would always stand with the people of Saudi Arabia against any threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the kingdom.” However, it was not true, as Islamabad decided to play a mediatory role between the two Muslim countries as part of a balanced approach in the Middle East.

It is mentionable that in the recent past, Islamabad refused to send its troops in Syria to fight against the Islamic State group (ISIS) which is Sunni-based militant outfit and wants to oust the Shia-government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Similarly, last year, Riyadh insisted upon Pakistan to send its armed forces in Saudi Arabia and also to join the coalition to conduct aerial strikes on Yemen. Islamabad which did not join the coalition had also refused to dispatch its forces in Saudi Arabia. Instead, Pakistan’s parliament had passed a unanimous resolution which stated, “The war in Yemen is not sectarian in nature, but has the potential of turning into a sectarian conflict which will have critical fallout in the region including Pakistan.” It urged the government “to stay neutral in the Yemen” conflict and called upon “warring factions in Yemen to resolve their differences peacefully through dialogue.”

On December 15, 2015, Saudi Arabia announced a 34-state Sunni-based military alliance to fight the ISIS. The alliance included Islamic states such as Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Malaysia, and some African states, with a joint operations centre established in Riyadh. The name of Pakistan was also mentioned in the list. Washington immediately welcomed the alliance.

On December 17, 2015, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary AizazChaudhry said that he was surprised to read the news that Saudi Arabia had named Pakistan as part of the alliance.

As already stated that in wake of Iran-Saudi Arabia rift, Pakistan’s National Assembly debated the issue, when Sartaj Aziz informed the Assembly that Pakistan would continue to play its mediatory role between Iran and Saudi Arabia, The Leader of Opposition Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah and other parliamentary leaders had asked the government to refrain from joining the Saudi Arabia-led alliance at the cost of neighboring Iran.
It is of particular attention that the US had planned to spark a civil war between the Sunnis and Shias in wake of war on terror. For the purpose, a study of Rand Corporation, titled ‘US Strategy in the Muslim World After 9/11’ was conducted on behalf of the then US Deputy Chief of Staff for Air Force. Its report which was released on December 27, 2004 advocated that Sunni-Shia sectarian division should be exploited to promote the US objectives in the Muslim World. The report was first implemented in Iraq.

In 2004, major terror-attacks were carried out against the Shias. Afterwards, a chain of Shia-Sunni clashes started between Iraqi Shias and Sunnis, targeting each other’s mosques and religious leaders through bomb blasts, suicide attacks etc. After Iraq’s experiment, more deadly pattern of sectarian strife and clashes have been conducted in Pakistan. With the tactical assistance of American CIA and Mossad, Indian secret agency RAW have arranged a number of attacks on mosques and religious leaders of Shias and Sunnis through the militant groups such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Jundullah (God’s soldiers). These outfits kidnapped and killed many Iranian nationals in Pakistan including Iranian diplomats. Jundollah conducted several subversive acts in Pakistan’s province of Balochistan and Iranian Sistan-Baluchistan. In this connection, Tehran has directly accused CIA of funding these types of terror attacks.

It is noteworthy that while hinting towards US and Israel, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei had disclosed, “The bloody actions being committed in Iraq, Pakistan and Iran are aimed at creating a division between the Shias and Sunnis…those who carry out these terrorist actions are directly or indirectly foreign agents.”

Pakistan’s leading Ulemas (Religious scholars) of the Shia-Sunni sects, including politicians have repeatedly pointed out that external conspiracies were being hatched to destroy peace in the country though sectarian divide.

However, it is regrettable that some Islamic countries are acting upon dual strategy. For example, if we take cognizance of the perennial wave of terror attacks in Turkey and failure of country’s security agencies in thwarting these subversive acts, question arises either Turkey is implementing dual strategy.

In this respect, the triple suicide bombing at the Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul killed more than 50 persons and injured more than 250 individuals on June 28, this year.

No group claimed responsibility for these suicide blasts. But, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said. “Our thoughts on those responsible for the attack lean toward Islamic State” (Also known as ISIS or ISIL or Daesh). John Brennan, head of the US CIA also stated that the attack bore the hallmarks of Islamic State “depravity.”

A Turkish official told the AP that the “three bombers who carried out the attack on Istanbul’s main airport had connections to Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan,” having links with the ISIL.

Turkey is part of a US-led military coalition against the ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who always follow contradictory policies has taken steps this week to improve relations with Israel and Russia to strengthen its hand in fighting against militants, stated the attack at the airport should serve as a turning point in the global battle against terrorism.

As part of his own dual strategy and that of the US-led countries like Israel, some European countries in relation to ISIS, Syria and Russia, including some Islamic countries such as Libya, Yemen etc., Ankara has ignored any indication about the militant outfit Kurdistan Workers’ Party-PKK which also did not claim responsibility for these triple suicide assaults, and which is being assisted by American CIA, including Israeli Mossad.

The Turkish government is simultaneously facing two main terrorist organizations PKK and ISIS. Since July 2015, Turkish Special Forces have been launching a counter-terrorism campaign against the PKK. While as part of the anti-ISIS coalition, Ankara carried out numerous airstrikes against ISIS strongholds in Iraq and artillery shelling across the border with Syria.

ISIL which accepted responsibility for several terror attacks in Turkey was also blamed for March 19 and January 12 terror attacks in Istanbul as well as the October 10, 2015 assault in Ankara, which claimed over 100 civilian lives. But, in most of the cases, PKK did not claim responsibility.

As regards the triple suicide bombing at the Atatürk International Airport, the fact of the matter is that Turkish President Erdogan who have been acting upon the double game of the US-led entities which include some European countries and particularly Israel against Russia regarding Syria and ISIS have become target of his own double game.

When in September, last year, the Russian-led coalition of Iran, Iraq, the Syrian army-the National Defense Forces (NDF) and Lebanon-based Hezbollah began attacking the US-CIA-Mossad assisted ISIS terrorists, Al-Qaeda’s Al-Nusra Front and the rebels who have been fighting to throw out the Syrian President Assad’s regime and against the present Iraqi regime as part of America’s double game to protect the Israeli illegitimate interests in the Middle East, Turkish President Erdogan’s real face was came to the limelight. Clandestinely, like some Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, he implemented the policies of America, Israel and Western Europe, and tarnished the image of Turkey in the eyes of the Islamic World.

Notably, on November 26, 2015, a Russian plane was brought down by Turkey without any warning as part of the US-planned scheme and war-like situation was created between Moscow and Ankara. Although Turkey is the member of the NATO, yet President Erdogan misperceived that US-led NATO would defend Turkey against Russia, as attack on one country is considered as an attack on all the NATO countries. America and other NATO states did not want to take the risk of war against Russia for the sake of Ankara. But, Turkish President Erdogan continued acting upon the double game of the US-led countries.

In this context, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lavrov said, “By shooting down a Russian plane on a counter-terrorist mission in Syria did not violate Turkey’s airspace…the Turkey’s actions appear planned, and undertaken with a specific objective…Turkey’s role in the propping up the terror network through illegal oil trade…Turkey’s involvement in the ISIS’ illegal trade in oil, which is transported via the area where the Russian plane was shot down, and about the terrorist infrastructure, arms and munitions depots and control centers that are also located there.”

In this context, French General Dominique Trinquand (R) also reaffirmed Lavrov’s stand by saying, “Turkey is either not fighting ISIL at all or very little, and does not interfere with different types of smuggling that takes place on its border, be it oil or people…the reason we find this line of questioning fascinating is that just in the aftermath of the French terror attack asked who is the one breaching every known law of funding terrorism when buying ISIS crude oil, almost certainly with the tacit approval by various western alliance governments, and why is it that these governments continue funding ISIS”

On April 26, 2016, RT (Russian TV Channel) documentary with exclusive eye witness reports and documents, abandoned by retreating jihadists and found by RT documentary crew members in a region liberated by Syrian Kurds, pointed to commercial scale oil smuggling operations and cozy relations between ISIS and Turkey. The area surrounding the town is well known for its vast oil reserves and extraction activity that for months was reaped by ISIS command to generate revenue. A teenage oil refinery worker told RT, “Of course, they wouldn’t get any weapons from Turkey if they didn’t ship them oil…they…go with the oil and come back with the guns.”

ISIS member from Saudi Arabia, Muhammed Ahmed Muhammed told RT. “Crossing the Syrian-Turkish border was also very easy…the Islamic State erased the borders…there are apparent ties between Turkey and IS…Turkey decided to support IS so they could destroy Syria. But Syria will stand up to them.”

Apart from RT, some analysts and Sputnik have also shown solid proof by pointing out smuggling of oil, Turkey-ISIS liaison in this respect, while mentioning, “Recep Erdogan’s son Bilal Erdogan who owns several maritime companies has signed contracts with European operating companies to carry Iraqi oil to different countries…ISIS is being fed and kept alive by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish intelligence service, including MIT, the Turkish CIA. ISIS militants were trained by US, Israeli and now it emerges by Turkish Special Forces at secret bases in Konya Province inside the Turkish border to Syria.”

US Vice President Joe Biden told a Harvard gathering in October 2014 that Erdogan’s regime was backing ISIS with “hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons.

While, taking note of Ankara’s pro-Israeli policies and against the Syrian refugees, Muslim political experts and a number of human rights groups, particularly Amnesty International in its press release on April 1, 2016 criticized, the controversial Turkish-EU refugee deal by indicating, “Large-scale forced returns of refugees from Turkey to war-ravaged Syria expose the fatal flaws in a refugee deal signed between Turkey and the European Union…all forced returns to Syria are illegal under Turkish, EU and international law.”

Puzzled owing to his own double game and that of the US-led West, on May 8, 2016, Turkish President Erdogan has kept up his rebuke of European nations, accusing them of dictatorship and cruelty for keeping their frontiers closed to migrants and refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict. He clarified that “Turkey would not meet a EU demand for his country to reform its anti-terrorism legislation.” As Erdogan has become target of his dual strategy, hence, a rift has been created between the West and Turkey, the close ally of NATO. On February 10, 2016, President Erdogan lashed out at the US over its support for Syria’s main Kurdish group, saying, “The failure to recognize the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as a terrorist group is creating a “sea of blood”. He explained, “The PYD, on which the US relies to battle so-called Islamic State in Syria, is an offshoot of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party.”

Following the American double game, Turkey has also been assisting the Syrian rebel groups, the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS militants. As per the CIA directions, in Aleppo city, shell and mortar attacks by ISIS and the rebel groups have continued on the Kurdish neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsoud. ISIS has also continued firing rockets across the border into the Turkish town of Kilis. In the pretext, the Turkish military is retaliating with shell fire and has also been interfering in Syria.

It is mentionable that like the US, Ottoman Empire of Turkey was a large multi-ethnic state. European powers, especially the Great Britain played a key role in disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. In order to maintain their control, one of the British strategies was divide and rule which was being practiced through various tactics such as arrangement of rebellions, manipulation of ethnic and sectarian differences and so on. The Britain provided soldiers, weapons and money to the Arab subjects against Turkish Empire.

According to the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the British and French agreed to divide the Arab world between themselves. The Britain took control of what are now Iraq, Kuwait, and Jordan. The French were given modern Syria, Lebanon and southern Turkey. Thus, they brought about the end of the Ottomans and the rise of the new states like Jordon, Sudan, Syria, Kuwait etc. with borders running across the Middle East, dividing Muslims from each other.

Henry Kissinger had suggested the split of Iraq into three independent regions, ruled by Kurds, Shias and Sunnis.

Covertly, President Erdogan who has been backing the US-led policy of divide and rule has become target of his own double game at the cost of Turkey and other vulnerable
Muslim countries which have been destabilized by America, some European countries and Israel in the pretext of fighting ISIS or terrorism.

It is noteworthy that Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin has sent his condolences to the Turkish people regarding the terror attacks at the airport in Istanbul. Both the countries have reconciled after years of tension over the death of Turkish nationals at the hands of Israeli commandoes who had stormed the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara. Reuven Rivlin wrote a letter saying: “I take this opportunity to welcome the chance to renew our good relationship especially because our strengthened dialogue will greatly aid in our joint efforts against this threat, and because it sends a strong message to the terrorists that we will stand untied against hatred.”

When on March 19, 2016, three Israelis were killed and five were wounded in the suicide bombing in Istanbul, Turkish President Erdogan wrote a letter of condolences to President Reuven Rivlin, saying he was “very sorry” to hear that three Israelis were killed and five wounded in the Istanbul attack.

Sometimes, the hunter becomes the hunt and the gunner himself becomes a target. It happens so with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan whose country Turkey pays for his dual strategy and that of the US-led entities, as the militants of the PYD, PKK and ISIS would continue terror attacks in Turkey as part of the secret game, especially of CIA and Mossad to destabilize this Muslim country. On the other side, Pakistan’s armed forces and country’s ISI are successfully castigating the double game of the US-led India, Israel and some Western countries against the integrity of their country. Turkey must better follow Pakistan in this respect.

Returning to our earlier discussion, Pakistan is playing a balancing role, while, dual Strategy of some Muslim countries is destabilizing the region and the Middle East.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations


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