Saudi deputy crown prince creates new “home address” countering a common adversary
London: “Al Majalla”
On 15 of December 2015, Muslim countries decided to take charge or their own security, as a unit. An Islamic military coalition to combat terrorism was born (IMAFT). Saudi Arabia the leader, and 33 nation states as equal partners in an arrangement where the Saudi capital of Riyadh is transformed into the headquarters. One that coordinates and supports military operations aimed at combating extremist threats and standing up to terrorist plots.
In a rare press conference, deputy crown prince and Defence Minister of KSA, Mohammed bin Salman told reporters that the campaign would “coordinate” efforts to fight terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan, but offered few concrete indications of how military efforts might proceed.
“There will be international coordination with major powers and international organisations … in terms of operations in Syria and Iraq. We can’t undertake these operations without coordinating with legitimacy in this place and the international community,” bin Salman said as Reuters published at the time.
When asked if the new alliance would focus just on ISIS, bin Salman said it would confront not only that group but “any terrorist organisation that appears in front of us.”
A long list of Arab countries such as Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, together with Islamic countries Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan and Gulf Arab and African states were mentioned.
However, Iran, was absent from the states named as participants due to its continued support of Houthi rebels in Yemen, Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq, and its attitude towards the well-being of fellow Muslim countries.
Even though Saudi Arabia along with other Muslim countries joining (IMAFT) were members of the The Global Coalition against Daesh (ISIS) formed in September 2014 committed to degrading and ultimately defeating the extremist regime, the announcement of (IMAFT)’s creation cited “a duty to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organizations whatever their sect and name which wreak death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorise the innocent.” i.e not just ISIS, but all terrorist threats.
The move was at the time welcomed by Washington which has been urging a greater regional involvement in the campaign against ISIS militants who control swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. The coalition became so popular, it became to be known as the Muslim “Nato” in western media.
In late December 2016, Oman, joined the Saudi-led coalition. The sultanate indicated its willingness to take part in the what has become a 40-country alliance.
And just a few days into 2017, it was announced, by Pakistani media, that Pakistan’s recently retired army Chief Raheel Sharif would be appointed as the Commander in Chief of the alliance. General Sharif retired last November, the first Pakistani army chief in more than 20 years not to seek an extension to his term like some previous military leaders. Such choice, would come to further validate the close ties, especially in security, between Saudi and Pakistan. It would further perfectly demonstrate how the Kingdom, despite leading the coalition, has also chosen to delegate to its union’s members.
On that, an article published in a Pakistani news outlet last week laid forward a set of questions about the coalition. It wondered about its structure especially that it is not under the wing of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the absence of Iran, and the new Pakistani commander in Chief’s assumption of the role without national pre-agreement.
The article, even though heavily pessimistic of the coalition, has surprisingly opened doors to refute its notions. The reason the coalition does not fall under OIC control is because in the charter article under its creation, there is no specific duty for joint military action. The coalition lead by Saudi, was a decision made, voluntarily by Muslim countries to take charge of their own safety and fight terrorism.
Even though the Kingdom has taken charge, it has also delegated. Researcher Maia Otarashvili who is currently the Program Manager of the Eurasia program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philidelphia notes in a statement to Al Majalla that: “Whenever an indigenous actor in the Muslim world takes the mantle of leadership to cull together a coalition against terrorism, that initiative deserves the support of the international community”. She further adds, “ In developing the “Islamic Coalition,” Prince Mohammed bin Salman has created a new “home address” for coordination and partnership in countering a common adversary.”
In terms of the appointment of new Pakistani commander in chief, the Pakistani government had actually clarified that it welcomed the move, especially that it comes in time where Pakistan still suffers from terrorist attacks on its own soil, and is in need of security restoration. On such note Otarashvili adds, “ From my perspective as a Eurasia specialist, the rubric of an “Islamic coalition” against terrorism is worthy of note”. She elaborates, “ In Central Asia, some of the former Soviet Republics are Muslim-majority countries which have not been as active in international counterterrorism efforts as they could be or should be. Perhaps the Saudi-led coalition, in appealing to a common heritage and faith, can offer a context that more effectively engages these countries in a joint effort”.
As for the third piece of criticism on Iran’s absence, there is no better justification than Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Al-Assiri, the advisor at the defence minister’s office and spokesman of the Arab coalition for Yemen’s peace in December 2015. He at the time noted that “We are now talking about actions to defeat terror and if Tehran is willing to become part of this coalition, it must stop its interference in Syria and Yemen and quit supporting terrorism in Lebanon and Iraq.” Which unfortunately has not been achieved till today.