By Nadir Mir
A new war is brewing in the Middle East. Some analysts have compared it to 1914 commencing into the Great War. This Great War of the Middle East may engulf adjoining regions and will certainly influence most of the world. Pakistan of course would be affected in multiple ways and simply cannot afford to be a silent spectator. The Middle East Geopolitical environment is quite complicated. Unlike other wars, the belligerents, alliances are not cast iron. The battle lines are frequently blurred, friends and foes are at times overlapping with fluid alliances. A host of state actors both regional and global are involved besides ever increasing legions of militant non state actors.
On the Eastern flank of the Middle East and outside the mouth of the Gulf, most strategically located is Pakistan. It is not merely a South Asian Nation but Pakistan is the central state of many regions (Middle East / West Asia, Central Asia, China and South Asia). Geo-strategically Pakistan is the ‘Bridge State’ but also ‘Interposing State’ of multi regions. This concept has been explained at length in both my books, ‘Gwadar on the Global Chess board’ and ‘Geopolitik Pakistan’.
The soldiers and people of Pakistan are united to defend Pakistan, its interests and allies. COAS Pakistan General Raheel Sharif had aptly said that the entire nation stands with the Armed Forces. The internal enemies, terrorists are being systematically defeated in Pakistan. The soldiers of Pakistan are the defenders – saviours led by the brave chief. Pakistan has the potential of not only guarding itself but as the defender of Saudi Arabia and protector of peace along with Turkey in the region. Pakistan is a strategic ally of Saudi Arabia/GCC; therefore it cannot be pragmatically neutral in any conflict. It is Pakistan’s national interest to support Saudi Arabia/GCC. The millions of Pakistanis workers in the region remit billions of dollars which are part of Pakistan’s economy and livelihood of tens of millions within Pakistan. The evacuation of Pakistani and other nationalities from Yemen is an indicator of Pakistan’s proactive role in West Asia. Pakistan is determined to contribute for peace in the region.
Middle East Multiple Wars
The first problem in the Middle East is that multiple wars have been fought simultaneously with many of them overlapping. Unfortunately, ‘Everybody is virtually fighting with Everybody!’
First, it is a clash involving major state actors – Saudi Arabia / GCC, Iran, Israel, Egypt, Turkey, left over Syria – Iraq, Yemen and others. Second, a bewildering array of militant non state actors has sprouted over previous decades. Hizbullah, Hanmas, Al Nusrah, Al- Qaeda, ISIS (non state actor – state actor combined), Houthis to name a few. These ‘Instant Armies’ though asymmetrical are supported by various groups of local populace, regional state actors and extra regional powers. Third, though the Cold War is over for over two decades, US and Russia – China are frequently on opposite sides in the Middle East.
America’s Middle East Policy
USA is playing multiple games in the Middle East. American policy in the Middle East was based on three pillars, oil – Israel and conservative Arab States. All three have taken a jolt. The old American Middle East narrative has not been replaced by a new narrative. Besides the Middle East environment has become more complex than ever. America’s two Gulf War in Iraq, destroyed the old order without creating a new one. The Arab Spring has partly fizzled out or deflected into civil strife. US – Israel relations have nosed dived. President Obama’s Nuclear Deal with Iran is vehemently opposed by PM Netanyahu of Israel.
Oil, while still critical for USA and the world is at a remarkably low price. Conjectured that the aim of low oil prices is to deprive Russia, Iran not to fill their coffers till the brim. Shale gas advent in Continental USA may have also marginally reduced the appetite for Middle East oil. The conservative Arab Regimes were also shocked by the Arab Spring. The main Middle East dictatorships in Iraq, Egypt, Libya have vanished. The monarchies are now under threat. The Pentagon led by prudent General Dempsey is implementing President Obama’s policy of avoiding misadventures. In any event, the American public opinion is more riveted on the need to contain Islamic State than elsewhere.
Unintended consequences (read Bush Administration) blunders at Geopolitical Chess are quite evident. In fact, President Obama has correctly tried to bring USA out of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps former Defence Secretary Robert Gates’ warning of ‘not getting involved in Land War in Asia’ is being heeded. The reluctance to commit US boots on ground to fight ISIS in Iraq or Houthis in Yemen may be due to war weariness and financial constraints. Else the US ‘Of Shore Balancing’ strategy using Naval Forces, Air Power, Special Forces while employing local land forces or allies for Geopolitical ends is in practice!
US – Iran Nuclear Deal
It may satisfy US – EU and Iran but may not convince Iran’s other foes.
– Israel is preparing to strike Iran supported by pro Israel US lobby. Republicans are hoping to take the White House in 2016. Even if they don’t the Congress remains Pro Israel.
– Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and smaller Arab States would seek their own nuclear arsenals or at least a nuclear umbrella. The only nuclear protector can be Pakistan. A nuclear armed Iran suits no one, not even Iranians. A Nuclear Iran will lead to a denuclearizing war against Iran by Israel and others.
The Arab States fear US – Iran nuclear deal. They dread that it will free Iran to make the bomb due to no sanctions but more funds. Iran’s foreign policy is also perceived in Arab Streets and capitals as aggressive.
Arab View – Neo Persian Empire?
This majority Arab View is that Tehran’s Realist Foreign Policy (rivaling Washington in its Real Politik) is using Shia militants/proxies as spearheads. An Arab World View sees the ultimate and ulterior inspiration of a new Persian Empire with Shia colouring. This ancient Arab – Ajami (Persian) clash seems to be rekindled by both regional and extra regional forces. The double pronged Iran backed militants fighting in Iraq and Yemen raises the specter of strategic encirclement in Riyadh. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander General Solemani was reportedly leading the charge in the crucial battle of Tikrit. The fall of Tikrit to Iranian backed Iraqi forces and the aftermath of looting – anarchy has redoubled the fears of the Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula.
The threat from the Gulf is unabated in Saudi minds. A fresh Iranian sponsored militant offensive is feared with Bahrain as the spring board. Boastful Iranian claims of controlling four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sanna confirmed the Saudi Arab view of a Neo Persian Empire rising. A Shia minority dominating the larger Sunni Muslim world is their spectre. Even though later responsible Iranian leaders rejected such claims the damage has been done to widen Arab – Persian Schism. At its peak, the Old Persian Empire stretched from Egypt and Greece to China. Any such inspiration today will lead to a larger Middle East War. Iran has multiple and powerful enemies. An attempt by Tehran to dominate the region will draw a backlash. Saudi Arabia and Israel will strike back (Saudi Arabia and Israel conflicting with Iran will be an utter failure for Tehran’s Geo-strategy). Ultimately USA will join Israel even if it does not join Saudi Arabia’s war with Iran. China – Russia will support Iran but not go to war for it. In the final analysis, Iran may find itself alone, with non state actors, militants confronting the Arab World, Israel, USA and EU. This is a worst case scenario from Tehran’s point of view. Iran must temper its ambitions and cannot engage in a great Middle East War which will lead to its utter grief.
The proverbial sleeping giant is awakening, still it needs support. Saudi – Pakistan fusion can be pure synergism. As per an Indian author, ‘A match made in Heavens! (The Indians are always petrified by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia aligning in any capacity). The ‘Salman Doctrine’ is proactive. The young Defence Minister determined to defend Saudi Arabia.
‘Still the proud and noble Arabs, with their great sense of honour, are a force for global temperate. The time honoured rustic wisdom of the Bedouin is the recipe and not conflicting, alien, adventurist Geo-strategy!’
(Extract from the book, Geopolitik Pakistan by Nadir Mir)
Saudi Arabia is rightfully determined to maintain balance of power. (Guaranteed with Pak – Turk affinity). Even if Riyadh considers Uncle Sam the ultimate supporter, it is not the initial protector any longer!
Tehran has been wise to conclude the nuclear deal. ‘Next War Iran’ (my article previously published from Pravda Moscow) has been postponed for now. Removal of sanctions will improve economic condition in Iran. Still Pakistan – Turkish diplomacy should be accepted by Iran in the interest of peace and stability. Pakistan even while defending Saudi Arabia is not Iran’s foe. In fact the Shia – Sunni is a non issue, because all citizens of Pakistan are equal. Those who target Shias in Pakistan are terrorists and the Pakistan State will defeat them. However, Iran’s ambitions have to be checked is not only an Arab, Israel, Western view but larger global opinion. Tehran must leash all militants destabilizing the Middle East and help usher in peace. Pakistan’s diplomatic cooperation should make Tehran realize that distance from India is in its interests. India remains Pakistan’s existential enemy; therefore Iran should not strategize with Delhi. Pakistan can mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia and even US – Iran to an extent.
The first threat to Turkey is Kurdistan. Those who sponsor Kurdistan also destabilize Pakistan’s Baluchistan. Turkish – Pakistan alliance will further cement for mutual benefit. Both will defend Saudi Arabia; mediate for peace in Iran and stability in the larger Middle East. Turkish – Pakistan Kardeshlik (brotherhood) is now evolving into a greater strategic consensus. The contours of a triple alliance between Saudi Arabia/GCC, Pakistan and Turkey are visible. It may have been unthinkable considering the Ottoman Empire legacy (Lawrence of Arabia peddling) but Geopolitics has its own logic. In any case, Pakistan is the strategic linkage for both Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Israel’s War with Iran
Israel has been planning, preparing and rehearsing to launch strikes against Iran’s nuclear projects for ages. The nuclear deal has been rejected by Israel. Tel Aviv demands Tehran’s recognition of Israel, which the Iranians finds anathema and are loath to do. The nuclear deal makes it difficult but not impossible for Israel to provoke a war with Iran.
Tel Aviv will provoke Iran, lure it with stratagems into a wider conflict with Arab States and raise a bogey of a Neo Persian Empire as threat to Israel and Arabs alike. If the culturally rich Iranian let the flames of the Middle East spread, then Israel will launch disarming strikes (on Iran’s nuclear projects). Even if Israeli strikes are a failure, Iran’s retaliation will start a larger war. US Congress will ensure that USA joins the war against Iran. So the thinking may go in parts of Tel Aviv.
Yemen is both a political and Geopolitical issue. It is a tribal and power struggle rather than a sectarian issue. Yemen is basically not a Shia – Sunni conflict. It is turning into a contest between Saudi Arabia and Iran contesting as they are on the larger Middle East Chessboard. Loyalists of President Hadi, even previous leader Saleh, Houthis, Al-Qaeda, militant forces were all fighting. In early April 2015, Yemen’s capital Sanna and strategic port Aden are in Houthis’ hands. Saudis Air Force along with coalition had enforced no fly zone and now both Saudi and Iranian Naval Forces are posturing around the Red Sea. Any Houthi or other militant attempt to attack Saudi Arabia should not be acceptable to Pakistan and Turkey. While Pakistan will defend Saudi Arabia, diplomacy with Iran is also underway. In fact, Pakistan’s policy is balanced. A twin track strategy to use military instruments to defend Saudi Arabia and diplomacy with Iran for peace and stability in the larger Middle East. Russia and China both stands for peace in the Middle East and should be co opted in Pakistani diplomacy.
The New Thirty Years War or Ralph Peter Map?
A chorus of mostly western voices is terming the Middle East inferno with various analogies. Richard Hass President Counsel of foreign relations had labeled it ‘The New Thirty Years War’. Other thinkers have followed suit. It may suit some extra regional forces to see the Middle East Muslim World at war with itself. The Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648) was a struggle over political – religious order of Central Europe. It resulted in the treaty of Westphalia and led to the emergence of modern nation states.
The infamous Ralph Peter’s Map of a balkanized Middle East may have suited Neocons and globalists but does not suit peace and stability in the larger Middle East.
Skeptics warns of the notion of ‘Controlled Chaos’ converting into ‘Uncontrolled Chaos!’ An arc of destabilization may have been planned from Nile to Indus (Egypt to Pakistan). By the same token, today the pillars of stabilizing the greater Middle East will now be Pakistan and Turkey (the flanking powers of the region). The conflict being waged from Basra to Bruit and in Yemen will have to conclude. The 1916 Sykes Picot agreement was to carve out British, French spheres of influence at the cost of the Ottoman Empire. Even if imperfect the nation states of Middle East today cannot be left to the vicious appetite of militant non state actors.
Imperfect partition was also the fate of the subcontinent. The British Radcliffe Award should have awarded Gurdaspur – Pathankot region to Pakistan. Kashmir and a part of East Punjab which were denied was Pakistan’s due share at partition 1947. This would have brought peace in South Asia.
Pakistan stands for Peace and Stability in the Middle East
Essence of Pakistan’s Geo strategy
(From the Book Geopolitik Pakistan by Nadir Mir)
· Defend and stabilize Saudi Arabia / GCC
· Strategize with Turkey and China
· Diplomatic parlays with Iran
· Develop Gwadar and coast to become a maritime power and protector of Gulf States
· Build full spectrum, maximum assured nuclear deterrence
· Pakistan statecraft should make it a key Gulf and Middle East player.
Pakistan is destined to rise as a Regional Power and Great Nation.
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Brigadier Nadir Mir (R) is author of the books “Gwadar on the Global Chessboard” and ‘Geopolitik Pakistan’
His blogs are, Blog: Pakistan and Geopolitics.
Blog on Face book, ‘Revolutionary Pakistan’
He is working for the national cause.