As 2006 comes to a close, the dye has already been cast for the major conflicts that will dominate the New Year. Just when one thought the US and its obedient ally Britain had finally realised the realities on the ground in Middle East and West Asia, and had seen the wisdom of dialogue instead of the use of force, we find both Bush and Blair going back to their war rhetoric – especially in terms of dealing with Iran. So one will see a growing divide between the US and UK on the one hand and Iran, Syria and other Muslim states on the other – with the Europeans and the Arab states facing increasing dilemmas in terms of alliances with the US and against Iran. Although Blair, on his recent visit to the Middle East talked about an “alliance of moderation” involving the Arab states – many undemocratic – against Iran, such an alliance will be highly destabilising for the Gulf and Middle East region and the states therein, in terms of domestic polities. For the Gulf Arab states, a major drawback in seeking a more independent strategic policy is the heavy presence of US and allied forces on their territories. In the coming years, these forces may turn out to be a major source of strategic threat rather than the presumed security.
As for Iran, the UNSC resolution against its nuclear programme has only limited validity even as it undermines the credibility of the UNSC itself. After all, with the Israeli Prime Minister himself having admitted to Israel’s nuclear status, it would have been far more credible to have had a resolution dealing with the nuclear issue in the Middle East in its entirety. In this connection, Pakistan’s reiteration of its intent to continue its non-nuclear trade with Iran has been a welcome move, especially in terms of assertion of national priorities in external policies. It is now critical for Pakistan to take advantage of Iran’s suggestion for a trade corridor for Pakistan through Iran into Central Asia, and for Iran through Pakistan into China. India has already realised the potential such a corridor could offer it and has sought to push itself into this plan but given its recent omission of Pakistan from the new trading bloc it has initiated in the region – the BIMST-EC – it is time Pakistan excluded India from economic corridors between Iran and China.
There is a pattern that is now becoming more entrenched in terms of global politics. There is a system premised on core states (primarily Israel, UK, India, Japan and Australia, with some European states being co-opted as required), around the sole super power, and these states will tend to use coalitions of the willing outside of the UN structure when multilateral action is intended. NATO will also increasingly be an alternate to the UN’s blue berets as it seeks to expand its operational milieu. A sign of the undermining of the UN blue berets was reflected in the Congo recently when the Europeans sent in their forces under a UN mandate but not under a UN Command, while developing states like Pakistan sent in their military contingent under UN command. While this development went unnoticed, it should have been given more attention for this is the new pattern of global relations emerging – a pattern which will see the gradual irrelevancy of the UN system unless the international community, outside of the US and its allies, is prepared to act forcefully.
As for the Muslim World, it seems it will continue to remain divided along sectarian and ethnic faultlines, which will keep it weak and ineffectual despite its very real power potential. With Iraq continuing to move towards total anarchy, it serves the interests of the US to keep the antagonism between the Gulf Arab states and Iran from diluting. A regional strategic initiative in the form of a strategic dialogue between the GCC and Iran would alter the dynamics of the region in a positive fashion, but such a move would be a long-term challenge to US interests and primacy in the region.
At the same time, it is becoming ever more clear that Muslims will come under increasing attack in terms of their social and religious traditions in non-Muslim states, especially in Europe – where the marginalisation of Muslim populations will continue. Yet there is potential to alter these scenarios if the Muslim World becomes more assertive and more accommodating of diversities within. There is an increasing relevancy for a more expansive elaboration of enlightened moderation within the OIC context.
For Pakistan and some of the other larger and assertive Muslim states a note of caution in the coming year should be the very real threat of efforts by the US and its allies to redraw borders to cut Muslim states “down to size”. There is a pattern in the writings coming out from analysts in the US and UK, critiquing states like Pakistan and offering alternate maps. These writers are not from the fringe but from the Establishments of these states and their writings are appearing in the defence publications of the US and UK.
In fact, in terms of strategic interests, Pakistan needs to take a long hard look at what is happening. There is the continuing belligerent rhetoric coming out of the Karzai government and from some members of the US legislature, as well as the US media. Clearly a justification for hot pursuit into Pakistan is being sought as well as an attempt to lay the grounds for a more prolonged intervention by NATO into Pakistan’s tribal belt. This cannot be acceptable for Pakistan and it is time the government began building the fence along the international border with Afghanistan. There is a need to review our Afghan policy and look at this neighbour within a framework of historical facts – rather than an emotive framework of Islamic brotherhood! While Pakistan should develop a cooperative relationship with this land-locked neighbour, some red lines should be clear including the non-acceptance of the growing Indian interventions in Afghanistan – at multiple levels.
As for India, 2007 will continue to see the same games being played by the Indian establishment in terms of conflict resolution and, having proposed ample initiatives to India, perhaps we should now wait until India is ready to make serious moves towards resolving the Kashmir dispute outside of the Indian Constitution.
Finally, by now it should be abundantly clear that despite all our confessionals and publicising of our export controls, our nuclear programme will continue to sit uneasily with the West simply because we are a Muslim state. So it is time to stop wasting resources on such efforts and continue building up our deterrence capabilities. And we should seek an alternate strategic framework based on regional dynamics, in 2007, because the Indo-US strategic partnership is a direct security threat to Pakistan. Let us also put national interests before all brotherhood sentiments and other interests – with the priority being to develop a strong civil society, where everyone is a stakeholder. After all, it is the man in the street that is imbued with a lasting national commitment, while the elite continue to seek alternatives to the green passport even as they exploit this wonderful nation.