By Ayaz Amir
A question worth asking: who’s stoked the fires of extremism across the troubled world of Islam? Who is the real begetter of the radicalism sweeping across the region? Alas, not the usual culprits, Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and certainly not the Islamic State which is a newcomer on the scene, a babe in the terrorist woods.
The honour of godfather falls squarely on the shoulders of our American friends. Had that evangelist George W Bush and his neo-con crusaders not thought fit to blunder into Iraq, the fires we see lit across the region would not have blazed with such fierce intensity.
There would have been no Al-Qaeda in Iraq, no Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, no Sunni rebellion, no need of a Gen Petraeus-inspired surge, no bombing of Fallujah with nuclear-depleted artillery shells (isn’t that the name?), and, from the viewpoint of our Saudi friends, no Shia domination of Iraq which is sending such cold shivers down the backs of our Saudi friends.
That is the difference between big and small blundering. When a country like India blunders it leads to a Kashmir crisis or the storming of the Golden Temple. When Pakistan blunders it creates ‘jihadi’ ghosts in its backyard. When mighty Rome blunders the earth shakes and turmoil spreads across an entire region.
There was no Al-Qaeda in Libya, Col Gaddafi not suffering even the shadow of its presence in his country. The west got rid of Gaddafi and earned payback in the form of Islamic extremism. Libya has known no peace ever since.
Libya, however, is a backwater compared to that other battleground, Syria, racked by civil war and a western and American agenda that, frustratingly, remains unfulfilled. The Turks wanted Bashar al-Assad out. The Saudis and Qataris wanted him out. The Americans had long hated him because he had ties to Iran, and both Iran and Syria had ties to Hezbollah which the Americans (and Israel) can’t abide. So for different reasons the Turks, the Arabs, the Americans and the French formed a holy alliance to get rid of al-Assad.
And they would have succeeded but for three things: 1) Bashar’s defiance; 2)Iran’s support for him; and 3) the realisation on the part of Vladimir Putin, who had had his fingers burnt in Libya when he did not stand up for Gaddafi, that enough was enough and that the Americans needed to be stopped somewhere. Not to forget a fourth factor, courageous Hezbollah – the only force in the Arab world to stand up to Israel in battle – physically stepped in on Assad’s side.
Syria has been devastated, millions of Syrians becoming refugees from their homeland, and over 200,000 Syrians killed since the civil war started. But to western frustration and Turkish and Saudi anger, Bashar remains in Damascus. The Saudis are upset with President Obama because he did not bomb Syria.
All this was serious enough but containable. The Syrian crisis has done more: lit the fires of radicalism and extremism like nothing else. Just as the American invasion of Iraq brought Al-Qaeda into Iraq, the destabilisation of Syria gave Al-Qaeda an entry point in the form of the al-Nusra Front. Out of the resulting witches’ brew there further mutated the Islamic State (or Isis) to whose danger the Americans woke up only after it had consolidated its presence across a wide stretch of Syrian and Iraqi territory.
And now American warplanes have swung into action against Isis…as good an instance of higher statesmanship as we are likely to find: first light a bonfire and then start screaming, and calling in the fire engines.
The same tricks were tried in Ukraine, the Americans first engineering the ouster of the admittedly maladroit President Victor Yanukovych – the US assistant secretary of state, Victoria Nuland, cheering lustily from the sidelines – and then going red in the face about Russian aggression. Putin did not trigger the Ukrainian crisis; the Americans did. They are crying now because they couldn’t handle the fallout. And Putin of course has held his nerve and outsmarted them.
Ukraine is outside the Islamic orbit. Syria and Iraq are at the very epicentre of the Islamic world where the battle-lines, alarmingly, are drawn along sectarian lines. Sunni groups are fighting Bashar al-Assad. These groups are being armed and funded by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the US. Isis is distilled Sunni-ism, in its most extreme form. Iran is on the other side, backing Hezbollah and Assad, and helping the Iraqi government fight off the challenge from the Islamic State.
Commander of the Al-Quds force of the Revolutionary Guards, the Iranian general Syed Qassem Soleimani, is directing the Iraqi war effort. By all accounts he is the most influential man in Iraq today, credited with stopping the Isis advance towards Baghdad.
Consider then the fullness of the American achievement. Saddam Hussein was no threat to the US. He was just an emotional irritation. But on a tissue of lies the Americans sowed the invasion of Iraq and are reaping the whirlwind in the shape of enhanced Iranian influence across the region. So much for intended consequences.
Now consider the Saudi dilemma. Sunni radicalism sits ill with the monarchical principle on which their dynasty rests. But standing against Sunni radicalism is not them but Iran. And if there is anything the Saudis detest more than Islamic radicalism it is Iran, a hatred going back to the early days of Islam. The irony of this has to be savoured. American meddling created the conditions for the rise of Iranian influence. America’s neo-cons, and the pro-Israeli lobby, have thus proved to be revolutionary Iran’s most useful supporters.
These are not outcomes the Saudis had foreseen. To counter them they are now trying to drum up a Sunni alliance – that is why the outreach to Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey. There is, however, a major difference. The principal weapon in the Saudi armoury is their ample cheque book. The Iranians have more effective assets on the ground: Hezbollah, Bashar al-Assad, a friendly regime in Baghdad, a Shia militia in South Yeman. And what if there is a nuclear deal with the world powers? That will further tip the scales in Iran’s favour, as Israel realises and Saudi Arabia, mistakenly, fears. (The mistakenly can be left for some other time.)
Any fool can see that it is none of Pakistan’s business to be drawn into this game. It has enough of a sectarian problem at home and can do without involvement in the larger struggle for influence, dressed up in sectarian colours, raging across the heart of the Islamic world. Better that it keep its own counsel and act as a bridge where it can.
But there is a lesson for it in all this. The Iranians are making their moves on a large chessboard. The Americans may be hostile to them but they take them seriously. Pakistan remains a prisoner of its past, its vision limited by narrow concerns.
Despite its size, despite its large army and its nuclear stable, time and again it has fallen readily into the role of a client and satellite state, almost as if the purpose of its existence was just that and nothing more. What is that mysterious force, where the Holy Grail, that can bring about the liberation of the Pakistani mind?
Writer can be reached at: email@example.com
Courtesy: The News