Saudi-Iran Conflict: Just the Sort of Diversion the Islamic State Needed

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Despite an almost unanimous agreement about the evil that the Islamic State embodies, the world is still having a hard time forming a military alliance to take substantial action against the group. From lamenting the consequences of unrelated past foreign military intervention to equating ISIL with other Arab states, there is no shortage of absurd political opinions making excuses for inaction.

At a time like this, it was probably not surprising that the usual suspects of the region were busy making matters even worse in the Middle East. Through some very deliberate measures, Saudi Arabia and Iran have chosen to strain their already tense diplomatic relations seriously.

Things started getting worse when Saudis executed dissenting Shia scholar Nimr Al-Nimr, sparking violent anti-Saudi protests in Tehran during which protestors set the Saudi embassy on fire. As a reaction, Saudi Arabia, followed by UAE and Bahrain, expelled Iranian missions to their respective countries. The region started worrying about a new conflict and Islamic State found just the sort of relief they needed.

Of course, whenever relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran suffer, you can expect increased pressure on Pakistan, both from the Saudi government and from the people at home. While the careful approach the Government of Pakistan has taken in this regard is the way to go, it must be warned to move a step forward in terms of its commitment to fight ISIL. In an ideal world, a military operation against ISIL with Pakistan’s participation should have been underway.

The Gulf states have been facing much criticism for their inaction against ISIL, which have been regularly resisted by Shia militia in Iraq. As a matter of fact, people have been speculating Saudi hand behind ISIL since the extremist group share the brand of Sunni Islam practiced in the kingdom. Now that they have made a military alliance, it is being condemned by some for being meant for exclusively targeting Iran and its sponsored militant groups.

While protesting the Saudi-led anti-terrorism alliance makes little sense, this is the expected consequence of choosing to join a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Probably for spiritual reasons, the local Sunni and Shia population have linked their religious fervor with the terrible political entities of Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively. This is why commentators with this concern have been calling for Pakistan to join a US-led alliance to fight the Islamic State.

So far we have seen a lot of talk about the anti-terrorist alliance but little action. Only substantial military action by the Saudi led alliance would put the conspiracy theories to rest. The lack of action is yet another reason for Pakistan to wonder if it is in the right camp. But then again, fighting ISIL proactively is hardly a priority for nations around the world, and Pakistan seems to be no exception.

This is where the United States and other Western powers would have to lead and work with Saudi Arabia and Iran to focus on eradicating the Islamic State. Unless a comprehensive global alliance is formed for the purpose under the leadership of the United States, it would be difficult to organize the much required military efforts.

We are at a point in history when extraordinary measures are required for the elimination of the evil Islamic State. Global and regional powers, which are otherwise adversaries, need to come together to get rid of this common threat to human civilization, but the local Muslim population is busy squabbling about the power struggle of Iran and Saudi Arabia instead.

This will severely hurt any possible military campaigns that had any chance to be initiated by Muslim majority countries in the Middle and adjoining regions because everyone would need to take a side in this conflict. I appreciate the passion of everyone who wants their countries to remain neutral in the Saudi-Iran conflict, but that would not be the case for long if the situation escalates further.

The recent episode only proves the irresponsibility and recklessness of Iran and Saudi Arabia as regional powers and goes to show that they should be the last countries leading other Muslim majority nations. While it is a good idea expressing solidarity with them and offering military aid for necessary defense and peacekeeping, it would be a disastrous mistake to follow their lead in shaping foreign policy.

This is why it is important for global powers to avoid the distraction of Saudi-Iran conflict and refocus their attention on the threat of ISIL by rallying a global alliance. Pakistan must also play its part as a responsible nation and must distinguish itself with significant participation.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

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