Funny What Amounts to Treason in Pakistan

Source: The Nation

Pakistan is a strange country. Here people are more outraged about who helped catch the most wanted terrorist in the world than the fact that Osama Ben Laden was found hiding in the backyard of the country’s military academy.

Now whether the most wanted man in the world was a prisoner of ours or his presence there was a complete could be up for debate. However, there is no doubt in my mind that both the military and civilian leadership of the time were absolutely committed to fighting terrorism, including Al Qaida.

It is also not difficult to assert how Pakistan has been committed to its alliance with the United States for fighting terrorism, despite all the differences and suspicions. This is why it should really not be so shocking that Pakistan would do everything in its power to help the United States achieve its goals.

If that is the case, what is the big deal with certain Pakistani government officials helping the United States out to locate Osama Ben Laden? I personally disagree with killing Ben Laden instead of arresting him alive, but I am pretty sure that would have been the last resort.

There has been one constant theme since the Abbottabad raid in 2014. Outrage over the United States violating over sovereign air space, even though they were curiously not bothered even any step of the way except for the resistance at the terrorist compound.

Since then we have been trying our best to determine the traitors who tipped off the US authorities about the location of Osama Ben Laden so they could violate our sovereignty. And are absolutely not bothered about the people who kept Osama Ben Laden in the lion’s den for who knows how long.

There is absolutely no doubt that the matter about the Abbottabad incident should be clarified to the public. People deserve to know what really happened that day as opposed to the official narratives the reliability of which have been highly doubtful.

Ambassador Haqqani’s op-ed piece in Washington Post, as narcissistic it was, it failed to demonstrate the reason that everyone in Pakistan seems to be upset about. Though not sure if providing his own example offered any solace to the skeptical and angry American vote. That Ambassador Haqqani’s cockroach skills could survive a nuclear holocaust is not a recent revelation. However, what we are seeing in a new light are the incurably twisted priorities of the Pakistani nationalists.

I tried hard finding how the ambassador could have hurt Pakistan during his one-man crusade, duo if you count President Zardari, against Osama Ben Laden and failed to find any bad news. The gentleman, if we are to take his word for it, used his contacts to help out the US intelligence locate the position of Osama Ben Laden after 8 elusive years. And now that we finally got him, the Obama administration gets to take all the credit for the find. Of course, they get the credit for the kill entirely.

Opposition leader Khurshid Shah pounced at the news by declaring Mr. Haqqani a traitor after our bellicose defense minister raised the issue. A lot in the national media are apparently doing the same. After the habitual retaliatory statement, PPP succumbed to the pressure of national security like always, even though they are aware that their voters do not give a damn about the Haqqani affair.

If anything, this episode speaks volumes of the vision and intelligence of President Zardari for making such a bold diplomatic feat possible. Of course, it is not treason if the Prime Minister and President order something, if Haqqani’s account is true, that is. I only wish the names of the Pakistani civil and military officials would go down in history in the rightful spirit of their valuable contribution when it comes to the operation taking out Osama Ben Laden.

But this also tells us something about Obama administration abandoning its close allies in Pakistan since then, which you could argue could have done more to promote the democratic regime. Under the extreme pressure of military establishment and judicial activism, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani had to resign to appease our anti-corruption witch hunters.

With the deal of the CPEC closed and the troops of Communist China parading in Pakistan for the first time in history, Pakistan is now under the thumb of the authoritarian Far Eastern power than ever before. No outrage over that either. Meanwhile, Washington is trying to abandon Pakistan as much as possible under the influence of an unpredictable President and crazy isolationist conservatives and left progressives.

But if we stop blaming others for our miserable situation for once, we better consider our national priorities for one second. I am not endorsing a foreign country violating Pakistani borders and air space. Of course, the Americans should have kept the Pakistani authorities in the loop (yeah right), but I am just confused by the lack of outrage at Osama Ben Laden living like a king in Pakistan. Please tell me what I am getting wrong here, or were our objectives in the war against terrorism contrary to that of the United States?

This is supposed to be common sense, but since it is not, you would find people stating the obvious every now and then, which clearly is not so obvious.

Also, this is a good reason why the world has a hard time believing us.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Pandering to the Authoritarian Ally

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

In perhaps a not so unprecedented move, the Pakistani interior ministry has ordered the shutting down of Pak-Turk schools and the staff to leave the country by November 20.

It was not too long ago that the same Interior Minister ordered the Save the Children organization to shut down, only later to reverse the decision. But there are many ways this case is far worse.

In an utterly shameless manner, the Turkish President claims that the organization of his rival is a threat to Pakistan’s national security. The Turkish President accused Fatehullah Gulen to have orchestrated a failed military coup in July 2016, apparently all the way from Pennsylvania. This also resulted in a cruel purging of dissidents from government service and arrest of political workers.

The PTI had called for the boycott of the Turkish President’s address to the parliament out of spite for the Prime Minister, or perhaps because he is “disqualified” now. I would have had much more respect for them, or for any other Senator or MP, had they expressed their protest when such humiliating and unacceptable language was being used by the Turkish head of state. But more than that his pressures for banning the Pak-Turk schools should be condemned.

What is even more outrageous is his defiant behavior toward the Pakistani press rightfully criticizing the ban. Typical despotic behavior from him that has not been unheard of. While his government may not welcome the criticism from the Pakistani press, our press and our people supporting freedom should not welcome his comments and actions either.

The fact that the Sharif brothers would go to any degree to appease their personal allies is one problem. But what about Pakistan’s sovereignty? That would have already been invoked had the demander would have been the United States.

Just like we have done so many times before, we have ensured an authoritarian ally that no one is safe in our country as long as they are opposed to them. So, it is not just about Fatehullah Gulen, if you are Dalai Lama, you better not enter Pakistan or we could hand you over to China.

The question remains if we are to give up our sovereignty of offering safe shelter to the Turkish employees of the Pak-Turk schools, then what exactly is our argument with India? Why are we not listening to India about which terrorist group should be taken action against or not? And it appears that India’s problem with Hafiz Saeed holds a lot more weight, even if he happens to be a natural citizen.

If our moral compass really supersedes our political and territorial sovereignty, then what is the resistance to not listening to India, signing an extradition agreement and handing over the likes of Hafiz Saeed? If diplomatic relationships are everything and more important than the freedom of local and foreign citizens staying in the country,  then why not take this necessary step to put an end to the current diplomatic crisis with India? Purely because of their grievance with Hafiz Saeed. Other than the fact that Pakistan thinks that he has not done anything wrong.

This may be a false equivalence, but enough of an argument that would never work on deaf ears. Let us talk about our loyalty and devotion to the Turkish people instead, arguably the most loyal allies Pakistan would ever have.

It could be argued that the Pakistani government would not have a choice considering the diplomatic pressure from Turkey. However, at what cost are we strengthening our diplomatic relations?

The question is not even about political and territorial sovereignty. Again the problem remains to be our government’s insensitivity to the right of freedom of access. Not only have they deprived the Pakistani people of an independent service entity, but they have taken away an option for education, which violates the freedom of education. Especially in a country in which the government is not doing much about education anyway, despite passing the meaningless free education clause.ee

Our stance, as a nation and as a people, remains with the rule of democracy in Turkey, no matter who is elected.   For that reason alone, even the most liberal commentators would support the regime of President Erdogan and his party. However, we must never become a party to his partisan vendetta against his rivals.

Our loyalties in terms of alliance and friendship should remain with the people of Turkey regardless of their political and religious leanings. What is more important is that our loyalties must remain with all the Turkish people and not just those who are in power.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Expectations from President Donald Trump

Source: abc.com

Source: abc.com

A few months ago when the Republican primaries started, I wrote that a Republican presidency was the best possible road for the situation in Iraq and Syria. The suggestion was more for a traditional Republican. Even though I did anticipate a Donald Trump presidency right from the start, it was never something that thrilled me. Of course, a conventional Republican such as Jeb Bush or John Kasich would have been a far better choice of leadership in these difficult and almost apocalyptic times in the Middle East.

While apparently handing the complete legislative control to the Republican Party, the American people seem to have reversed the effect in 2008 that made Obamacare possible, things matter more on the foreign front. On the issue of terrorism, President Trump overwhelmingly beat Secretary Clinton, and even had an edge over her on economy and immigration, embarrassingly.

Considering the situation in Iraq and Syria, President Obama’s sheer disregard of the crisis is an abomination and a moral disgrace. With the monotone narrative in the Democratic Party, there is no hope of finding a viable alternative there. Ironically, a President Hillary Clinton would by far have been the most sensible voice in a party with increasingly isolationist tendencies pertaining to Iraq and Syria.

Trump’s main litmus test is going to be economic, of course. One of his greatest campaign promises, and one of his greatest hurdles to pursue an aggressive military policy, and he is expected to hesitate unlike Bush 41 and 43. You cannot claim to know Donald Trump or what he believes in except his love for himself, but you can estimate that when it comes down to it, he is going to be more cautious than you would expect. Contrary to the image of a monster that has been constructed by media in the last quarter or so.

What is important to consider is that Trump’s electorate has not voted for him to take America to another war, even though that may be the need of the hour. President Trump has been elected to improve America’s economic growth, to add jobs, for protecting American traders from the risks of globalization, and to bring manufacturing factories back to the United States.

But if only the economy were the only hurdle in the way of a more responsible foreign and military American policy in Iraq and Syria. With the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad immediately reaching out, the signs for the future are not healthy indeed at all.

Besides, Donald Trump is hardly a traditional Republican conservative. His populist platform and trade protectionism are the residue of his past in the left, with perhaps the issue of abortion being the only one on which he may have appeared to evolve as a conservative. Who knows?

But he is not exactly a Rockefeller Republican either and probably you cannot expect him to respect free trade agreements. The outlook on his domestic policy is scary and his calls for registering Muslims sounds highly inappropriate. He is also likely to block more Syrian refugees from entering. However, it would be difficult to argue that he is not merely following up on his mandate anyway.

While the liberals of the world are mourning the loss of Hillary Clinton, who has the conscience to ask the question about Iraq and Syria? Where were the military forces of the free world when the Peshmerga were struggling to hold Mosul with the fierce battle raging against the Islamic State? Where was the outrage and mourning for the Iraqi Kurds and the Yazidis?

This is where regardless of his personal ideological beliefs, or lack thereof, Donald Trump must rise up to the challenge of dealing with the Middle East situation in a brave and urgent manner. He must do that at least for the sake of his party and even if that means going to war with the legislature. And he must do that without coming under the influence of Vladimir Putin.

 It is undoubtedly unfortunate that an intellectual such as President Barack Obama is leaving office with the situation in the Middle East worsened when he assumed it. It is sad that he has not been able to work to resolve the sectarian tensions in Iraq, which have spilled over into Syria to fuel the bitter civil war. It is sad that he has threatened but never followed up on his red line.

If liberal and responsible leaders are not going to do their job, you have no choice but to count on “demagogues” to bring the task to completion.

Good luck President Trump.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Pakistan’s Turn to the Dark Side

Source: ARY News

Source: ARY News

If the recent foreign policy developments for Pakistan did not have you worried, then it is time for serious reflection. Ever since President George W. Bush left office, you can feel a distance between Washington and Islamabad. The differences between the two countries were particularly seen at their worst when Pakistan decided to carry out nuclear tests in 1998 during the term of the Clinton administration.

While Pakistan and China have always had very strong ties since the 1970s, but nothing like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has ever been seen before. It promises great prosperity for the future, but skeptics see it as yet another neo-colonial scheme in the region which could bring more harm than good. Not to mention the control it could possibly offer to the Chinese authorities in Gwadar.

Of course, the irony is not lost on the Pakistani left progressives and former communists who have been struggling against the military establishment since the 1950s. They recall how Afghan Jihad was mobilized by Pakistani military and masterminded by American National Security experts, out of fears of Soviets reaching the shores of the Persian Gulf. They also recall the harsh bans they had to endure during the Cold War years.

But let’s face it. The CPEC is too grand to be said no to. The magnitude of the project is so grand that even India would have agreed to it, had it been a primary beneficiary. The fact that Pakistan is turning to partners other than the United States and Great Britain for its economic and trade development sounds perfectly fine. Though you can’t help but wonder if the economic development comes at the cost of military alliances and other illegible footnotes.

Especially since the killing of Osama Ben Laden at the hands of US Navy Seals in Abbottabad, a humiliating episode for the Pakistani state, Pakistan’s position in the Western alliance has never been more precarious. The difference of interest between Washington and Islamabad on military action against certain militant groups in Afghanistan and within Pakistan have even worsened the tensions in the Obama years.

With the gulf of military cooperation apparently widening with a more disinterested US administration, Pakistan is apparently seeking new avenues with more sinister powers. On the surface, it was a welcome development that President Zardari paid a rare visit to Moscow in 2011 and that for the very first time, the Russian military participated in joint military exercises with Pakistan on Pakistani soil. Such an occurrence would have been unimaginable in the 1980s.

There is only one problem. Vladimir Putin and his open intimidation of the Western world. Not only that, his close association with Iran and the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. At a time when Aleppo has become the greatest battlefield for the conscience of the world, it may not be the best time to favor Russia over the Western world. So let’s just hope the military exercise is just a harmless affair of two old rivals on the road to friendship.

Probably it has been a long while that Pakistani nationalist commentators have been dreaming of Pakistani statesmen standing up to the US authorities on an equal standing. Even though we have had a tradition of strong diplomatic figures from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Abdullah Hussain Haroon. So you could expect that Senator Mushahid Hussein Syed’s recent comment at a Washington think tank about the United States no longer being the superpower of the world would see much appreciation.

The only problem is that the statement of the Prime Minister’s envoy could be tantamount to an needless provocation. It could work all very well in terms of harnessing diplomatic leverage and probably it would be unwise not to make soft threats, but if behavior such as this is overdone, it could surely affect Pakistan’s future with the Western world.

Furthermore, it is important to choose your words. Not sure how calling the United States “a declining power” is so flattering, no matter what your objectives are. It has only been a slight sign of Pakistan drifting away from and slipping into the Chinese and Russian camp, other than the usual cockiness of Senator Mushahid Hussain, who is free to get carried away after retirement as much as he wants. It is just that the China-Russia camp does not offer the best of values in human civilization.

It is only a fair point to make that it takes two to tango. Perhaps the United States does not require the partnership of Pakistan as it used to during the twentieth century or perhaps it is sick and tired of nurturing the Pakistani military without the satisfactory fulfillment of its objectives. However, the United States still favors Pakistan enough with its more traditional and liberal politicians largely refraining from supporting a Liberty Caucus resolution in the Congress to declare Pakistan a terrorist state.

Even though the situation is far from being apocalyptic, the direction Pakistan is heading is certainly not that bright. There is nothing wrong in stating that we are living in a multi-polar world today, neither is there any harm in pursuing trade and commerce ties with the likes of China and Russia. But it would be wise not to burn bridges with long-time allies, whose values and humanitarian record we need to identify with more than authoritarian powers.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s greatest strategic concern India has been significantly improving its diplomatic standing in the West, even reaching out to Israel, since the fall of the Soviet Union. At the same time, India has not been alienating rival China and old ally Russia in its pursuit toward a freer and more vibrant economy and strong defense. Pakistan surely needs to take its diplomatic lessons from its bitter rival, despite India’s petulant insistence to isolate Pakistan diplomatically. At least the missed diplomatic opportunity with Israel cannot be emphasized enough.

As citizens, we can only hope for Pakistan to pursue more liberal and democratic policies and to stand with global forces representing such values than otherwise.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

To Shimon Peres, The Peacemaker

Source: The Daily Telegraph

Source: The Daily Telegraph

As a young man, my mind was captivated by the image of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, along with Shimon Peres, and Yasser Arafat shaking hands in the White House lawn in 1993, overseen by President Bill Clinton. Sadly, the Oslo Peace Accords, for which all the three gentlemen won the Nobel Peace Prize, failed to bring lasting peace to the Middle East but laid the foundation of the Palestinian Authority.

Sadly, the Oslo Peace Accords, for which all the three gentlemen won the Nobel Peace Prize, failed to bring lasting peace to the Middle East but laid the foundation of the Palestinian Authority. It angered many Israelis and failed to satisfy many Palestinians, but sadly the fundamentalists always fail to follow the sacrifices and efforts put in to get even remotely close to such an agreement. Many believed that the peace deal led to Rabin’s assassination.

However, it inspired the entire world with the hope that a conflict as impossible as Israel and Palestine could possibly see an opening for peace, which could put millions out of suffering and misery in the region. One of the central figures behind the peace initiative was Shimon Peres, the foreign minister at the time.

Probably nothing inspired me more to value world peace than this single photograph. I thought that if a peace prize meant anything, it had to be all about the meaning of this picture. Just looking at it offers you a glimpse of hope that peace is possible in one of the harshest political conflicts in the world.

Source: Haaretz

Source: Haaretz

His death brings that sinking feeling in my heart, with a regret that I would never be able to meet Shimon Peres in person, perhaps in a diplomatic position. Just like the feeling I had after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, a regret that I would always live with. Another regret is that the Pakistan state establishment could not find a reason to establish diplomatic relations with Israel during his lifetime.

While his role as a statesman and diplomat for peace remains to hold universal appeal, he was one of and headed Israeli naval services after independence. A Polish Jewish immigrant, he was a part of the Haganah that later transformed into the IDF and was instrumental as one of the founders of the state. He saw the state grow to become a formidable outpost of democracy in a region crippled by autocracy and perpetual conflict.

Since he has been involved in the affairs of the state almost all his adult life throughout Israel’s history, his personality cannot possibly be removed from the controversy due to Israel’s brutal defense and retaliation tactics. However, as a statesman, and later as the President of Israel, Peres continued to reach out to the world and build a friendly image of Israel in a world that finds it hard to shrug off its antisemitic tendencies.

Probably the greatest reason to mourn the death of Shimon Peres, even though his role was mostly of a formal powerless figurehead of late, was that Israel has probably lost one of the last figures who could engage sensibly with the other side. His death leaves the current Israeli leadership in the hands of some of the most hardline right-wing government that Israel has ever had in its history. The worrying part is that the fundamentalism in the nationalism is only expected to grow, which hardly leaves you with an optimistic view of the situation.

There is easily more to celebrate about Shimon Peres than there is to mourn.

People like Shimon Peres matter because they are optimistic enough to believe in peace in a world of cynics, who believe in humanity when it is much easier to hate.

Let’s hope his passing serves as a reminder of how valuable peacemakers are.

Rest in peace, indeed.

Sectarian Diplomacy to End Sectarian Terrorism

Source: Times of Israel

Source: Times of Israel

This September, the New York Times featured a surprising piece from the Iranian foreign minister. Reading the article, you would find that he has curiously coined a new term for Islamic terrorism: “Wahhabism.” But sadly, it is not as clear as it sounds.

While you would occasionally come across the term used by Shia social media warriors every now and then, it certainly has not been a part of the mainstream with such political connotations. But now that it is, it effectively condemns an entire school of Islamic thought and apparently calls for its annihilation, correct me if I am wrong please. Imagine the outrage among our progressive liberals had the Saudi foreign minister made such an appeal to get rid of Shiite Islam.

Either the Iranian foreign minister is extremely naïve or wants to instigate divisive sectarian action from Muslims on purpose. While you could argue that the complaints against the Wahhabi school of Islam are not completely without substance, what about his verdict? If the Saudis are doing so with their action, such rhetoric surely would contribute to the problem. And I say this while appreciating that Iran needs its fair share of public relations to improve its image in the western world as well.

It is hard to interpret anything else from the term “Wahhabism” and “getting rid of it from the world,” which sounds a touch too sectarian a solution to end a sectarian problem. Unless it is really a new expression for Saudi foreign policy or radical Islamic terrorism as practiced by ISIL, Boko Haram, and Al-Qaida, instead of the theological school. Especially because like all Shias and Sunnis, not all Wahhabis must believe in militant and expansionist Islam apparently. At least not openly, like the rest.

I don’t recall if ever before a high-ranking diplomat has ever called for the annihilation of an Islamic school of theology. Either that or the title of the opinion article is terribly misleading. I find it shocking that a prestigious publication such as The New York Times would provide a platform to such outrageous ideas. But then again, it is also an effective way of publishing an insight into how the Iranian regime sees the world.

The main point in the article was much needed though that the Western world should wake up to the excesses of the Saudi foreign policy around the world. There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia has been a disgraceful ally of the West due to the kingdom’s regressive and even malicious policies in the region. Saudi Arabia also needs to be called out for its anti-Iran aggression. Even arguing for sanctions against Saudi Arabia for its human rights violations makes perfect sense, but probably not what the title of his article suggests.

The point about the correlation of Islamic militant activity with the presence of Saudi funding of theological schools abroad is interesting, but does that mean that the very theology of Wahhabism is exclusively responsible for it? It is possible but consider this. Are Islamic militancy, expansionism, and enforcing of theocracy exclusive to Wahhabi Islam? Furthermore, are Wahhabism and the Saudi regime one and the same? More importantly, are all Wahhabi Muslims extremists and militants?

In my opinion, the Koranic literalism and strict monotheism of Wahhabism have done more harm than good in terms of tolerance and harmony in more diverse and almost pluralistic Muslim societies such as Pakistan, but I am not sure if it should be banned as a theology or if we should “rid it from the world.” We are well aware that this has been a standard of freedom of religion in the Islamic Republic of Iran, or even in Saudi Arabia. But why should the free world follow those undemocratic values?

In making his case, the Iranian foreign minister pretends as though Islamist tendencies are absolutely absent in schools other than the Wahhabis. Sadly, the regime he represents deny that assertion. Furthermore, Iran also regularly backs Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist organizations that target Israel, if not other militant and political activity in the region. Especially, when Mr. Zarif speaks of the brutalities of the Syrian rebels while defending the sociopathic policies of the Assad regime, which is probably still using chemical weapons against its citizens.

At the end of the article, the Iranian foreign minister graciously invites the Saudis to join the fight against “Wahhabism.” What a joke. But this probably implies that by “Wahhabism,” he actually means radical Islamic terrorism instead of the Wahhabi school of theology. Though I am not sure if that means that either of the countries is in a position to reject Islamic militancy, which remains to be their weapon of choice.

In the very same article, the author declares Wahhabism a “theological perversion.” How terribly confusing. However, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the apparently cheerful Iranian statesman who does not dress like an Iranian cleric, does not come across as such a confused man by any means. He has a successfully negotiated nuclear deal with the United States under his belt, resulting in the lifting of some economic sanctions.

With a diplomat as brilliant and capable as Zarif, I think he knows perfectly well what he is writing about. In any case, it is a desperate attempt to counter the Saudi PR offensive he complains about.

The confusion that the article produces seems to be a case of deliberate ambiguity that could make the most out of the general ignorance of Islam among Western audiences. However, it needs to be called out for the nonsense that it really is. Not to take away from the fact that the credibility of the messenger ruins whatever traces of sincerity could be found in the message.

Probably the Iranian foreign minister should stop confusing everyone and join the rest of the world in referring to Islamic terrorism with the word that everyone understands. Terrorism. After all, you are not going to fight “radical Islam” unless you say the words.

A version of this post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Evil Guardians of Islam

Source: presstv.ir

Source: presstv.ir

Muslims of the world could not be more unfortunate to have countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia in charge of their larger political leadership. Not only they are arguably the worst governments in the world, but they have somehow also become the spiritual leaders of the two leading schools of Islam.

Recently both the countries made the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage, controversial by bringing their ongoing political tussle into the sacred ritual. While the Iranian spiritual leader questioned the administrative control of Hajj by the Saudis because of their treatment of pilgrims, which apparently sounds like legitimate criticism, the Saudi side responded in an even worse manner. If you can consider the Grand Mufti the Saudi side.

The Grand Mufti declared that the Iranians are not Muslims. Ah, the “True Islam” problem, here we go again. But it is not as simple as that. His statement was discriminatory and arguably racist since he is implying that an entire nation is predisposed to be hostile toward Islam. Probably the Grand Mufti is confusing Islam with the Saudi Royal family and with the statement has cleared any doubts about him being the official mouthpiece of the Saudi establishment. Something that puts him more in a political than a spiritual role.

The Grand Mufti is a figure who may not be equivalent to the Pope but is at least supposed to be uncontroversial in his appeal to all Muslims. However, you could argue that his figure is one that pilgrims from all over the world revere. Now fortunately or unfortunately, Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh has to step down from delivering his Hajj sermon this year anyway, but for reasons related to his health, not his controversial statement.

But what does this mean for a common Muslim? Perhaps this means that the current Grand Mufti would lose the respect that his office deserves. And if the Grand Mufti would never have a choice but to be the official mouthpiece of the Saudi government, then perhaps it could even mean the loss of respect for the very office for good.

You can only feel sorry for millions of Muslims, who have to go through a lot of pain and even risk their lives to complete this ordeal of a ritual, to be at the mercy of such feuding powers. But that does not change how terrible the Grand Mufti’s statement is. The Iranians have simply won the argument with a battle of words, and the Saudi spiritual leader has simply forfeited his position by rejecting a nationality from a universal religion.

Perhaps the Iranian Supreme Leader is right. With such behavior, the Saudi authorities are disqualifying themselves from being the administrators of the universal ritual of Hajj. Earlier, the Saudi authorities have been accused of banning Yemeni pilgrims from Hajj following the armed conflict between the two countries, which the Saudi government denies.

Before the Ayatollah’s statement, even Iran had banned its citizens to perform Hajj as well out of security and logistic concerns and had blamed Saudis for the crisis. Saudi Arabia had cut off diplomatic ties with Iran earlier this year after protesters in Tehran set the Saudi embassy on fire in protest against the execution of a Shia scholar in Saudi Arabia.

Restricting Muslims from any nation, in word or in action, is a betrayal of the legacy of the Holy Prophet. That legacy should matter to the self-proclaimed guardians of Islam.

Sadly, the Iranian Supreme Leader and the Grand Mufti don’t realize that their irresponsible statements are putting common Muslims in a position where they cannot avoid falling into one belligerent camp against the other. They are forcing them to put in a position where they would end up disrespecting other Muslims whether they perform Hajj or not.

These evil guardians of Islam on both sides of the fence are the part of the problem and the world would be better off without them.

A version of the post was originally published in The Nation blogs