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Tag Archives: neo-Middle East

Pakistan in the crossfire of Iran Saudi Sea-Saw

While in Pakistan, over the weekend, Saudi deputy crown prince and defence minister Prince Muhammad Bin Salman was emphasizing the counter terrorism aspect of upcoming 34-country military alliance, and simultaneously elsewhere, Saudi foreign minister was cautioning Iran that Saudi measures could go well beyond severance of diplomatic relations and trade embargoes should Tehran continue supporting terrorist elements. Pakistan’s assurances to visiting Saudi minster during last week remained measured, unflinching support for territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia and well short of any military commitment against any third country—more specifically Iran without naming it.Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, both Saudi Arabia and Iran have locked themselves in a race for influence within the Islamic world, involving: alliance building, sectarian focused influence paddling, social well-being projects, disaster mitigation programmes, conflict resolution strategies, religious education etc. Resulting into both desired and undesired fallouts. Most negative impact has been sectarian polarization amongst Muslim societies, hence weakening the Muslim State structures, be they Shiite or Sunni majority countries. Such state-society polarizations were hardly known before mid-1970s when Islam was taken as a single identity and a unifying rallying force—say against Israel. Iran has intensely focused on sectarian element and has mobilized significant non-government influence in contiguous Shiites belts running through the Sunni-majority countries of Asia through enabling and empowering of Shiite groups and have brought them up to the level of sustainable and resilient political pressure groups. Contours of this influence enhancement are clearly discernable in the Middle Eastern Shiite population belt. Likewise, since Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979, Saudis have also invested heavily amongst their school of thought through seminaries spread in the Sunni areas of influence. Moreover, they focused on alliance building amongst the Gulf monarchies with anti-Iran bias. The difference in the strategies has been that while Iran focused on Shiite communities which were not already politically empowered, Saudis were investing in the societies and governments where Sunni regimes were already in power. Now while those communities which received Iranian support are bursting at seams for political empowerment, at the cost of Sunni status quo political order, while those supported by Saudi Arabia—sub sects of Sunni school of thought— are either struggling to retain the Sunni status quo political order or claim their pound of flesh out of the same pie—hence becoming pariah like al-Qaida or Daish. Some Sunni regimes have already lost power to Shiite dispensations—say Iraq—others managed to survive from the brink—say Bahrain. Frustrated by the Iran-P+5 nuclear deal brightening the prospects of mainstreaming of Iran and likely reversion of America to early 1970s two pillars (Saudi Arabia and Iran) Gulf policy, Saudis may be mixing up chaff with grain. They need to reconcile that now for quite some time worst is behind Iran. For over a quarter of century, Saudis were in a diplomatic slumber while American and Iranian diplomats were busy hobnobbing in low profile meeting in un-important capitals around the world charting the parameters of neo-Gulf and neo-Middle East that would evolve through 2050.Even though all indicators point that ongoing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have peaked off; both sides are poised to continue struggling with the debris of over-reaction, however. Fault lines continue to haunt the two sides and relationship is likely to remain on tenterhooks, ready for fresh estrangement bouts on trivialities. The silver lining is that, at strategic level, good sense prevails, there is firm understanding that if conflict draws beyond certain redlines, only third parties would benefit, to the peril of both. Saudi’s need to guard against their new fond liking for interventionist war fighting through coalition making, recent American experiences are quite instructive. And Iranians need to understand that tactical gains through sub-state level interventions do not necessarily add-up linearly or exponentially to the strategic gains of the states pulling the strings of their proxies abroad.

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