Saudi Arabia has announced the birth of an ‘Islamic Military Coalition’ of more than 30 Muslim countries, and Sunni ones in particular. The coalition includes Arab countries Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, together with Muslim countries Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, and African and Gulf states.
It has not included any Shia sect majority countries, such as Iran or Iraq, or the Alawites Shia of Syria. Oman is also not a part of this coalition due to Sultan Qaboos’s neutral stance in the Shia-Sunni tussle.
The presence of Turkey in the coalition has labeled it as the ‘Islamic NATO.’ The main task of the coalition is to fight against terrorism. It is building an air, naval and land operation forces to intercede in major operations against terrorist organizations like, Al-Qaida, Islamic State and Al-Shabaab.
It assures to protect the Islamic countries from the evils of all terrorists without any sect and name discrimination, which causes corruption and the death of innocents. Saudi Arabia believes that the campaign is a coordinative effort to fight terrorism initially in Syria, Iraq, Egypt Libya, and Afghanistan.
Additionally, the coalition will also coordinate with all major powers, regional and international organizations especially in the case of Iraq and Syria.
Critics believe that Yemen war has not represented a positive impact for Saudi Arabia, and forced her to create an international coalition — with most of the coalition partners joining the initiative just because of guaranteed substantial economic flows from Saudi Arabia.
Most of the African country members have really nothing to do with Middle Eastern affairs. Additionally, except Pakistan, the same goes for Asian country members. Pakistan is a close ally of Saudi Arabia and already supplies its military manpower. The first commander of the coalition — Raheel Sharif — is also a Pakistani retired military general.
The Gulf States have involved themselves in financial and limited demographics., but the cases of Turkey and Egypt are different.
Egypt is the biggest contributor to the military as an ally of Saudi Arabia in the Yemen war and Al Sisi has given strong support from the Gulf States. Cairo is also facing terrorism, both from the IS in the Sinai and Libya.
Turkey’s President Erdogan has never veiled his objectives to play an important role in regional affairs. Both Riyadh and Ankara are strong allies against the Syrian regime and have a powerful grip in the region.
Nevertheless, above all it is not clear which international or regional organization will liaise with the Islamic ‘NATO’. The United Nations? The Organization of the Islamic Conference? The Arab League? And will she intervene to defend coalition partners or will she attack third-party countries?
According to news reports, the United States and China both are in favor of the coalition. In this case President Donald Trump could assist this initiative and see how effective it might be, before formulating interventionist policy.
China has always supported the regional and international efforts to combat terrorism and appreciated the Saudi-led coalition and showed its willingness to cooperate.
Apart from international support and appreciation, still there are many mind-boggling questions with regard to the Islamic NATO. What does it really intend to do?
History has witnessed the two similar alliances — NATO and the Warsaw Pact. NATO is an alliance that was initially envisioned to protect Europe from Russian interventionism. Likewise, the Warsaw Pact was a treaty between Soviet Union and its allies against NATO. The enemies were identifiable entities. But the Islamic NATO is intended to tackle terrorism and extremism, and terrorists are ‘within’. How will other coalition partners help to fight against an enemy that is within the region?
Until and unless these questions are not answered, the organization could simply look like an extension of the primarily Sunni coalition that is currently waging war against Shia rebels in Syria and Yemen.
The author is PhD scholar at Center for Nontraditional Security & Peaceful Development Hangzhou, China. [email protected], tweeter: iiimran110