Sunday, January 17, 2016 – Pakistan Observer
Middle East has been in a grip of conflict in recent years, and the situation seems to be deteriorating with new developments in the region. Daesh’s gruesome and barbaric crimes against humanity, its misrepresentation of Islam and its disgraceful ability to control parts of Iraq and Syria are a troublesome concern for people around the globe in current times. Syria has become a breeding ground for proxies where regional and global powers are fighting each other.
The recent execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr-al-Nimr by Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the subsequent burning of Saudi embassy in Tehran; attack on Iranian embassy in Yemen; severing of diplomatic ties between both countries – have all contributed to the mounting rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the resulting tension in the region. Iran, which is nearing the lifting of sanctions against her after the recently finalized P5+1 nuclear deal, found herself engulfed in yet another conflict and sought to do some damage control by sacking one of the security officials after the attack on Saudi embassy. Iranian representative told the UN that Iran does not want escalation of tensions in the Middle East. Actions of KSA are considered by some experts to be motivated by a fear of loss of KSA’s hegemony over the oil business after Iran starts giving one million barrels of oil per day to the international market.
Possibilities of Iran’s isolation again seem to be out of question, as United States under Obama administration is seeking to avoid any damage to the nuclear agreement which the US has claimed will be successful in containing Iran’s nuclear programme. Saudi Arabian and Iranian representatives, on January 10, 2016, said that tensions amongst their countries wouldn’t affect international efforts to end the war in Syria. Their conflict, nonetheless, will continue to plague chances of peace in the region. GCC and its member Gulf Arab countries, which have a greater economic and geopolitical impact in the region, vocalized support for KSA in its conflict with Iran, and at the same time, Shiites around the Muslim world are protesting against the Saudi action of execution of the Shiite cleric, despite being cognizant of its fallout.
The Saudi Foreign Minister’s recent visit to Islamabad was a continuation of attempts to win support for Saudi Arabia’s case. The Pakistani government had reiterated its willingness to mediate between the parties but the Pakistani state is indebted to Saudi Arabia for its continuous support throughout Pakistan’s history, and cannot be perceived as impartial by Iran. Pakistan also wants to avoid friction with its neighbour especially when Iran has proved itself adept in influencing agents and proxies in favour of its interests, and Pakistan can potentially achieve some economic benefits through the possible IP gas pipeline project. Pakistani government and military leadership assured Saudi officials of all out support in case of any threat to KSA’s territorial integrity.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have both aimed to maximize their supremacy against each other in pursuance of the objective of becoming the regional power, especially since the Iranian revolution. Sectarianism, which is very much a reality of the Muslim world, has been used a tool by state actors across the region for political gains.
Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), established more than 40 years ago by Muslim countries, aimed in its Charter to be guided by the “noble Islamic values of unity and fraternity,” but seems to abandon those very values when unity is most needed. Religion, which should have been a unifying factor in the Muslim world, has been replaced with the more powerful element of sectarianism, where the Shia Sunni divide has exacerbated disagreements and turned them into lasting conflicts.
Former head of OIC recently gave a statement proposing Turkey’s role as a mediator between KSA and Iran. OIC members can play a part in the current conflict by bringing to table Saudi and Iranian leadership and by encouraging dialogue between conflicting parties. Under the current Secretary General of OIC, who is a Saudi national, OIC has taken a pro-Saudi stance in the conflict.
OIC should strive to be an unbiased organization and a conflict resolution forum that all member states can look up to. In this regard, Pakistan should adopt a policy where sides are not taken and an arbitrary role is played in conflicting situations between Muslim countries. Pakistan’s Parliament’s decision to stay out of the Yemen conflict last year did not land the country in any serious trouble, and it should be a priority to take such policy decisions by following democratic values and debating them in the country’s Parliament. To make OIC a potent body for uniting the Muslim world to play a positive role in case of conflicts, it should be devoid of any sectarian inclinations, and all member states, including Pakistan, should make efforts to make OIC such a reliable forum.