The major transformation underway in the Middle East has wide ranging global implications, including those for the adjacent regions. A critical inquiry from Pakistan’s perspective would be to examine the impact of these fast moving developments on the country and the future of the Afghan conflict.
There are two dimensions of this question: firstly, is Arab Spring style uprising also possible in Pakistan; and secondly, how will the changing power structure of the Middle East impact the future of Afghanistan.
PoliTact has been evaluating this two dimensional inquiry since the beginning of the year. To answer the first part of this query, we approached additional scholars of South Asia and Pakistan.
These experts were unanimous that Pakistan has had a number of Arab springs in the past, such as most recently the lawyers’ movement. However, there answers missed a subtle point: if Pakistan is truly a democratic system then why has the mistrust between the public and the government been increasing? Additionally, why has the government consistently attempted to implement domestic and foreign policies, while misinforming its citizens.
This could be because Pakistan’s leaders believe that the public lacks the right information and is so polarised between a mix of competing regional, religious and ethnic influences that it cannot be trusted to make the right decisions. It could also be that the leadership, lacking intellect and moral authority, feels incapable of bringing people together on thorny issues, and therefore relies more on foreign support.
Irrespective of the form of government, if the leaders and politicians neither represent nor shape the views of its public, they would be replaced sooner or later. And in this sense, the situation in Pakistan is ripe for a popular uprising. Failure of the government to develop consensus on the nation’s direction and formulating people friendly policies, only increases the probability of such a revolt.
To explore the implications of the changing power structure of Middle East on the Afghan conflict, the second part of our inquisition, the following factors need to be closely looked at. Firstly, how different regions have influenced the AfPak region historically; secondly, the threat perception of Israel and the United States; thirdly, the Shia-Sunni tussles being played out between Iran and Saudi Arabia; and fourthly, the future of Middle East peace process.
Pakistan’s location lends itself easily to the influences of Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. In the last thousand years or so, the regions of Central Asia and Middle East have deeply impacted the politics and civilisations of South Asia. Furthermore, since the advent of Islam, and even before, the tussles of Arab, Persian and Turkish civilisations have consistently played out in the Middle East, with each bringing to bear its own ideological interpretations.
For example, the end of Ottoman Empire in early 1900s pretty much ceased the spread of Turkish affect. The demand for energy resources, on the other hand, led to the spread of Arab influence that has continued to the present day. And, during the Afghan Jihad of the 80’s, the Arab political and religious schools of thought got directly interjected in to the AfPak region. Since 911, NATO and US are trying to reverse this particular dynamics, with the associated challenge of what would replace it.
From the perspective of US and Israel, Al Qaeda and Iran could exploit and benefit from the turmoil in the Arab world. To counter this threat, since the beginning of the Arab Spring US has been aggressively pursuing the leadership of Al-Qaeda central in the AfPak region.
PoliTact’s analysis of Israeli media reveals that in an effort to keep the rage of Arab street away from itself, it has promoted the narrative that projects a Shia-Sunni, Turkey-Syria, and Saudi-Iran tensions. It was in this context that Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi recently stated that Washington’s “evil scenario” was to impose illegal sanction on Iran and to isolate it from its neighbours, and to prevent it from regaining its lost position in the Middle East.
The support of Israel has been the bedrock of US policy in the region. Along with this, US has also backed Turkey, a NATO member, while supporting the Gulf monarchs, even in view of the Arab revolts. On the other hand, Turkish relations have worsened recently with both Iran and Israel. However, the Turkish position on Iran is increasingly falling in line with that of NATO.
Ankara’s concession to NATO in installing its missile shields on its territory seems to be the thorniest issue. On the other hand, Tehran sees this move as a ploy by US to protect Israel from retaliation, if Tel Aviv ever attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The contest for championing the Palestinian cause has traditionally been a theme that each contending power has played upon, to tilt the balance of power in the Muslim world in its favour.
Since the Peace Flotilla incident in May 2010, this scale has tilted in favor of the Turks. How these competitions play out in the Middle East, would directly affect the solution of Afghan conflict. Just as Saudi’s are trying to counter the Iranian sway in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, it would also want to do the same in the AfPak region. As US withdraws from Iraq, Iranian position in Middle East and AfPak would be further consolidated.
Any viable solution to Afghanistan would have to involve two of its most important neighbors: Iran and Pakistan. While the present economic realities support adding India as a stakeholder in Afghanistan, the history and geography of the region suggests it cannot occur at the expense of Iran or Pakistan.
The challenge for Pakistan, however, would be how it reconciles its relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and India, in search for the solution to Afghan conflict. Meanwhile, the trend in Middle East seems to indicate Persian and Turkish influences are resurgent once again.