Our regional security imperatives Gen ® Mirza Aslam Beg


Despite the Saudi snub, that they don’t need Pakistani mediation, Pakistan has taken a bold initiative to defuse the Saudi-Iranian tension. It is a step in the right direction, because Pakistan in its own right enjoys perfect sectarian harmony, despite so many induced sectarian riots and dastardly terrorists’ attacks. There is no sectarian discrimination in Pakistan. A capable person can reach the highest post of the President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice or Services Chiefs. Therefore, whatever steps Pakistan takes would have a meaning and sincerity of purpose. Saudis must realise that the regional geo-political momentum has overtaken the sectarian dispute – a change which we all must prepare to capitalise.

The emerging power equation in the region has caused serious security hiccups. The Arab Spring gave hope for change; the emergence of the regional powers like Turkey and Egypt, the botched-up Yemen war; the oil crisis; and lifting of sanctions on Iran, have caused serious impact on economy and relations with USA, yet Saudi Arabia has not abandoned its position as a swing producer to balance the structural imbalance, that is happening now. Saudi Arabia has become very apprehensive of Iranian growing influence from Iran to Iraq, to Bahrain to Yemen and the Saudi eastern provinces, which contain nearly eighty percent of Saudi oil. Internally there is a brewing dissent by the Wahabi extremists, who form the third group of Daesh, along with the Iraqi and Syrian groups. Thus Riyadh appears defensive, with a sense of siege. The formation of the 34 nation’s alliance is to provide security to the regime by rallying the Sunnis behind it. However, the fear is unfounded, because the quintessential values of the two strands of Islam have helped them live peacefully, through the ages, despite these differences.

On the contrary, Iran appears emerging as an uninhibited power broker in the Middle East, after its nuclear deal with world powers and lifting of sanctions and defreezing of billions’ worth of funds and assets. As a consequence, there appears the emergence of a new relationship between US and Tehran. Iran’s attractions are both political and economic, because Iran is an emerging regional power, and a big market with huge potential along similar lines as Turkey. However, Iran needs to win acceptance in the Middle East as a legitimate and constructive regional power, and not through aggression and proxies, but through a firm policy, to exploit the opportunities, now offered to it, after three decades of economic strangulation. Iran also faces the dilemma of how far to liberalise, once its economy reconnects to world market. In fact Iran needs security and peace as much as Saudi Arabia needs and that makes both the countries to work for a Regional Security Structure.

Iran has embraced China, because, China enjoys a distinctive position of not involving itself in the domestic matters of other countries. China’s only purpose is economic cooperation for the benefit of all. China-Pakistan relationship speaks for itself. President Xi Jinping’s visit to Iran and Saudi Arabia would help find ways and means to defuse the tension. His visit to Tehran and the negotiated long term strategic relationship, starting with 17 accords, would enhance the level of ties up to 600 billion dollars, from the present 50 billon level, in a period less than a decade. It has caused shivers in Washington, and elsewhere. Compare it with our 45 billion dollars CPEC Project in Pakistan, made controversial by our genius Ahsan Iqbal, even before its launching.

The search for peace has to be focused on the phenomenon of violence, which continues to destabilise the region, growing from causes, such as violation of rule of law, leading to denial of justice, which has resulted into a violent social order. Within a short period of three decades, violence against the Muslim World damaged the existing socio-political order, igniting a deep sense of collective resistance and revenge against the tyrants. For example, the rule of law was violated, denying justice to the winners in Afghanistan and Iraq. The matter became all the more serious, when due rights of the majority were not granted, for power sharing, which led to extreme frustration, giving rise to a deep sense of revenge by the marginalised group called Daesh, who have strong tentacles in Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia and the support of the angry Jihadis in eighty countries of the world. Against Daesh the sense of powerlessness is sweeping the nations of the world, who expect that it can only be addressed by re-building institutions, functional political parties and functional governments, which require crafting of political architecture and not the demagogy of destruction. What hope do we have from USA and their allies, who have withdrawn to their bases without peace being restored and war being won, and yet they turn out to be victors and world powers.

The crisis is oil – a new kind of war, with oil as the weapon. Oil gifted by Allah as a blessing now is turning into a bane. The fight for the control of the global oil markets in OPEC and outside of the cartel is entering into a new phase of ‘oil glut’ that sends shivers to the global oil market. Yet there could be a simple decision for both, Iran and Saudi Arabia to check this dangerous drift: Cut down the supply of oil to a sensible level to save the world from the looming economic melt-down, and conserve and build-up the reserves, for better bargaining later-on. Leave the sectarian problem to the moral sensibilities of the two countries, to manage it the way, they have done, over the centuries. Pakistan has to keep a watch on hot and cold wind blowing from the East and West as India bids for 42 warplanes from France worth 20 billion dollars, out of 150 billion dollars outlay and Iran buys 160 transport planes from Europe, worth 20 billion dollars.

The writer is a former Chief of the Army Staff.