US fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat Airfield in the first major military operation ordered by Donald Trump. In addition to the serious consequences of deteriorating situation in Syria, this attack highlights the reality that international alliances are not as simple today as they were during the bi-polar Cold War when one was aligned with either American or Soviet side. For Pakistan, the Syrian crisis could have serious consequences, including for our involvement in the controversial Islamic Military Alliance.
One of the greatest concerns about involvement in the Saudi-led military alliance was whether Saudi and Iran would be able to overcome differences and adopt a common policy. Members of the Islamic Military Alliance supporting the attack include Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and Bahrain. However, Iran has condemned the attack as “dangerous, destructive and violates the principles of international law.”
Russia has also opposed the American missile strike, while China has stayed neutral. The question facing Pakistan now is, how do we fit this reality into our new alliances? Do we support American intervention along with Saudi and Turkey and other Islamic nations? Or do we oppose the American aggression along with Iran and Russia? Or do we try to sit on the sidelines along with China? Is that even an option?
Unfortunately, military alliances are not as simple as slogans about “all weather friendships.” Each nation is going to do what is in its best interest, and unless we are going to be a vassal state who follows a lead whether right or wrong then we also must determine what is in our own interest instead of making decisions based purely on convenient alliances and imagined shared ideologies.
The civil war in Syria has quickly spilled over into Iraq, a strategy that has resulted in the country losing control of its borders. While military targets anti-Pakistan militants in Zarb-i-Azb operations, some have started to question whether any success will be undermined once Pakistanis fighting with ISIS return home. While the return of Pakistani jihadis from fighting in foreign wars is certainly a threat, there is another more immediate danger. Just as global jihadi groups hijacked Afghan, Syrian, and Iraqi, they have now set their sights on Kashmir.
At first glance, fighting in Iraq and Zarb-i-Azb seem to be completely unrelated. Iraqis are fighting over control over their own country, and Army is fighting to retain control of ours. What is being missed however is an important connection that could undermine any success Army sees from operations in North Waziristan. It is a threat that we would be very mistaken to ignore.
When it was revealed that Nawaz Sharif made a secret $1.5 billion deal with Saudi Arabia, questions immediately began to arise about what exactly was promised in return for such a large sum. Nawaz was quick to put an end to rumours that Pakistan had promised to send troops into foreign wars.
Of course, Nawaz said nothing about ‘assets‘…
Moral arguments are regularly used to promote positions on a range of issues. Independent Kashmir should be supported not to stick it to India, but because it is a moral imperative to defend the lives and freedom of people who want to be free. Drones should be stopped because they are a violation of sovereignty that is killing innocents. But in order to make a moral argument for a position, one is typically expected to adhere to the same standards.
The British learned this lesson the hard way after years of colonialism left them lacking moral credibility in the world arena. The US is the most recent student to learn the hard lesson after decades of supporting dictators left them suspect in the minds of the new leaders emerging from the Arab Spring. Now, we too may be facing a tough lesson.
The Foreign Office summoned American diplomats to lodge formal complaints about US drones killing Pakistani citizens last month. Over the weekend, though, it was our own diplomats who were summoned, this time by the Afhgan Foreign Minister who lodged a formal complaint about cross-border shelling from our side of the border. This came just after we abstained from a vote to impose sanctions on Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president who is massacring his own people in a last ditch effort to keep an iron grip on power. This failure to support efforts against a murderous regime comes only one year since we saw our troops traveling to Bahrain to support the violent suppression of a popular uprising.
Moral arguments are important. But if we want them to be taken seriously, we have to be willing to avoid the same policies that we are criticising. The UK and the US have learned this lesson the hard way. Why are we following down the same path?