Salafi NATO and Shia eclipse

Pakistan announcing its membership to the now 41-state Saudi-led ‘Islamic Military Alliance’ a day before Friday’s Parachinar bombing has correlation, even if no causal efficacy. That Pakistan also confirmed the military leadership through Gen (r) Raheel Sharif, while militants were plotting the attack on the imambargah, further gorifies the symbolism.

Of course the only plausible critique on what might otherwise seem to be a noble endeavour of Muslim unity is that this Islamic Military Alliance is none of the three words it self-identifies with.

It’s not quite a military alliance when 18 (almost half) of the participants do not have a military presence in the coalition. Further, for it to be an alliance of any sort the security of each member states should be equal to that of Harmain Sharifaein – often a sacrilegious misnomer for the House of Saud.

For instance, one doesn’t expect Islamabad to take up the issue of funding for around 24,000 anti-Shia madrassas with Riyadh, or question the presence of Saudi middlemen like Malik Abdul Haq al-Meqqi that have helped sustain Shiaphobic militant outfits like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in Pakistan.

Incidentally, LeJ al-Alami has orchestrated two bombings in the past 15 months in Parachinar alone. LeJA has also formally allied itself with ISIS in Pakistan, collaborating with the group that has been touted as the main adversary for this self-styled Islamic alliance.

So much for Pakistan’s military command then.

Even so, it’s the alliance’s claim to be ‘Islamic’ that continues to raise eyebrows as Shia dominant states Iran and Iraq remain sidelined. Even the Shia-majority, but secular, Azerbaijan isn’t there.

Yesterday, while expressing concerns over Gen (r) Raheel Sharif taking command of the Saudi-led coalition, Iran’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Mehdi Honardoost, confirmed that Tehran had not received any invitation to be a part of this coalition.

In addition to the tangible sectarian bent, the alliance’s façade as a harbinger of Muslim unity is uncorked by the timing of the hastened patchwork.

The coalition was first announced by Saudi Defence Minister Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud in December 2015, as the kingdom entered the ninth month of its military intervention in Yemen and was planning the execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, which led to the tense standoff between Riyadh and Tehran, eventually culminating in severing of diplomatic ties in January 2016.

This meant that just a couple of weeks after the Pathankot attack that laid the foundation of Pakistan’s own diplomatic warfare with India throughout 2016, and on the eve of the Bacha Khan University attack, both the then Army Chief and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were in Riyadh trying to soothe Saudi concerns vis-à-vis Tehran.

Furthermore, the alliance was formed and aligned against ISIS only after the group overtly started targeting Saudi Arabia, culminating in July’s coordinated bombings in Medina, Qatif and Jeddah.

The countless Muslims being butchered and raped in Iraq and Syria, by a group that would’ve been long extinct had it not been for Saudi and Qatari commercial support for ISIS-controlled oil, were obviously fair game. For, al-Saud family only decided to designate ISIS as an enemy, and vied to muster military support from other Muslim countries, after the terror group had brought radical Salafist warfare to its birthplace.

In addition to anxiety over a potential takeover by its offspring, Saudi Arabia has been concerned about uncertain oil market share, and plunging foreign exchange, as the US hikes its production. As its oil hegemony is threatened, both by the US’ energy independence and its own limited reserves, al-Saud family has been banking on its Islamo-capitalist vandalism of Islamic heritage to ensure ideological stranglehold over the Harmaein Sharifaein as the principal income source in the future.

A post-nuclear-deal Iran threatens Saudi on both the ideological and oil fronts. Hence, Tehran’s deal with the US has further added to Riyadh’s suspicions of the long feared Shia Crescent – a hilal shaped corridor from Tehran to Beirut. That the Saudi-led coalition launched the Operation Decisive Storm against the Shia Houthi rebels on the same day (March 26, 2015) the representatives of Iran and P5+1 sat in Lausanne to discuss the nuclear deal, highlights the impetuous paranoia on the driving seat in Riyadh.

Saudi funding of anti-Shia militancy in Pakistan – the second largest Shia population in the world – has been owing to its wariness with regards to the aforementioned crescent blooming into a wolf moon. Saudis fear participation of Shia populations of Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon – in addition to the Shia majority states – in the kingdom’s encirclement with the compass firmly planted in Tehran.

It is in this context, amidst continued Shia killings at home, and Saudi’s gruesome war crimes in Yemen, that Islamabad’s decision to join the coalition – further aggravated by a Pakistani general leading it – is gross abandonment of the local Shia population.

It is naïve for Pakistan to think that passing a resolution against its involvement in Yemen, or not being a direct part of the bombing campaign against the Houthi rebels, rids itself of complicity. If nothing else, by providing military support to Saudi Arabia and GCC states, it frees up these countries’ resources for the onslaught in Yemen.

Furthermore, despite Saudi officials claiming that there is no sectarian tinge to the alliance, the “counter-terror” coalition’s definition of terrorism – as per Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) provisions – is problematic as well.

The preamble of the Convention of the OIC on Combating International Terrorism subjects the coalition to “abiding by… the provisions of the Islamic Sharia.” Incidentally jihadist groups follow a similar, albeit unwritten, convention on Sharia.

Furthermore, Article 2 (c) equates “aggression against kings” with terrorism. Not to mention that the leader of the coalition, Saudi Arabia, has officially declared atheism synonymous with terrorism.

In maintaining affiliation with Sharia, and clearly outlawing any democratic attempts to overthrow the rulers, Saudi Arabia has reduced the so-called Islamic military coalition to foot soldiers for the al-Saud crown and its Salafist ideology.

This military alliance, touted as the Muslim NATO, hence, in effect, is the Salafi NATO, trying simultaneously to ensure a permanent eclipse for the Shia Crescent and the hegemony of the narrowest, most radical brand of Islam in the Muslim world.

By signing up for the venture, Pakistan is becoming a guarantor of an imperialist war-mongering monarchy, and ensuring the exacerbation of Salafi stranglehold over the global Muslim community.

Author: Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a staff member of The Nation.
He can be reached at khuldune.shahid@nation.com.pk. Follow him on Twitter