Arab countries and the Muslim world

Considering we could not do much in Kashmir, how can the Arabs expect us to do much for them?

The divide in the Muslim world is fairly obvious. First, there are Arab countries. None of them is in a position today to openly challenge Israel, the bane of their existence. During the past 70 years all their strategies to this end have failed and they have endured one defeat after another.

Next, we have non-Arab (Ajam) countries. Among them Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Turkey are prominent on account of their size and alignments. Among the Central Asian countries only Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan carry some heft.

Iran, Malaysia, and Turkey have been voicing their concerns about atrocities in Kashmir and Palestine. In the new line up, Pakistan has to decide where it stands and this is not an easy decision.

As for India, governments led by the Indian National Congress have supported the Palestine cause in opposition to Israel. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been in power since 2014,

has no qualms about siding with Israel. India also enjoys enviable relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

India and Israel share some common considerations in the region. That is the reason India has welcomed the new accord between Israel and the UAE. Pakistan now finds itself at a crossroads where it must choose its path, essentially between China and the US. One path goes to China, Iran, and Turkey; the other leads to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the USA. Pakistan appears to favour the first route.

The second group of countries is not keen on taking Pakistan on board unless its closes the other door. Economically, Pakistan has been in a precarious situation for long. In the first decade of this century, Gen Musharraf followed in the footsteps of Gen Zia, offering services to the US and its allies. In return for US money—as described in his book— the general arranged for the capture of the most wanted militants to be handed over to the US.

In the second decade, the situation changed, particularly after Nawaz Sharif assumed power and welcomed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Chinese influence increased. Both Saudi Arabia and the US didn’t like this development. Some observers even contend that the electoral defeat of Nawaz Sharif in 2018, may be linked to the American-Saudi displeasure. The new government, led by Imran Khan leaned towards America, Saudi Arabia and the UAE early on. Saudi and Emirati leaders visited Pakistan and the prime minister drove their vehicles and managed to secure a couple of billion dollars from them.

But that was a fleeting joy. The money had to be returned, resulting in some more running around the region, especially to China.

Pakistan is the only atomic power in the Muslim world. This has given it a special status. But in the 20 years since we detonated a nuclear device, the weapon has not been of much use. Gen Musharraf could not withstand American pressure even for a day after the famous ‘bombing back to stone age’ threat. Next, we lost thousands of civilians and soldiers in the war against terror.

The capture of Osama bin Laden from Abbottabad in an American operation, and our inability to do much about it was another blow. Finally, perhaps the most severe jolt came last year in August when India’s Prime Minister Modi annulled the special status of the Indian Occupied Kashmir and announced its unilateral formal annexation. Perhaps the Arab countries are now less impressed with the atomic deterrent. We knock at the Arab doors, and they dole something out to us but they do not expect much in return.

Considering we could not do much in Kashmir, how can the Arabs expect us to do much for them? That might have been a consideration that prompted Saudi Arabia and the UAE to disregard Pakistan’s protestations, and seek closer ties with India. In 2019, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) invited India as an observer. Pakistan had opposed this invitation to India tooth and nail, but the UAE didn’t pay much heed to Pakistani concerns.

The five largest Arab countries, i.e. Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, and Sudan have a combined Muslim population of around 250 million, nearly the same as India. When Pakistan accused India of Islamophobia a majority of OIC members did not support it and Pakistan found itself isolated.

After the Indian air raids in Balakot, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE did not condemn India. Pakistan’s support for the Taliban appears to be an irritant for Saudi Arabia and the UAE. From 1996 to 2001 Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE were the only three countries that recognised the Taliban government in Afghanistan. After 9/11 since the American allied forces toppled the Taliban rule, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have opposed the Taliban at the behest of the US.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has been trying to facilitate a deal that will allow the Taliban to share power in Kabul. When Qatar allowed the Taliban to set up their office in its capital Doha and Pakistan facilitated the Taliban travel, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE were not amused. Qatar was blockaded. Recently, Pakistan has been trying to raise the Kashmir issue through the OIC but Saudi Arabia has treated it as an internal matter of India.

When Pakistan expressed its displeasure, Saudi Arabia demanded the return of one billion dollars from its loan that Imran Khan had secured with much difficulty; though he had come to power after promising he would not beg or borrow, come what may. In 2019, the UAE also awarded PM Modi its highest civil award. Now it is clear that India is planning to stand side by side with America, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Some other Gulf countries, including Kuwait and Oman, may be next in line to recognise Israel. Even Qatar may have to think about it as its security is largely dependent on the US forces stationed there. India and Israel have signed several agreements in recent years. It looks like India and Israel will cooperate in military matters, and the Arab countries keep arming themselves to the hilt.


The writer can be reached at [email protected]

Arab countries and the Muslim world