Saudi-Iran rivalry aside, does Muslim world need military alliance?

Published: April 24, 2017
King Salman of Saudi Arabia (C) is pictured with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (front R) during a family photo session at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Istanbul Summit in Istanbul, Turkey April 14, 2016.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia (C) is pictured with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (front R) during a family photo session at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Istanbul Summit in Istanbul, Turkey April 14, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Regardless of the controversies that surround the nascent Saudi-led military coalition against terrorism, the idea of putting together a united opposition of Muslim countries to defeat terror groups is an important one. Today, when terrorism is not just limited to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria, combined efforts to address the issue seems a logical strategy.

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No doubt, the announcement of the anti-terrorism alliance by Saudi Arabia two years ago took several countries, including Pakistan, by surprise, but at least 39 Muslim nations announced their willingness to join it right away. Today, the membership stands at 41. Although details about the structure and functions of the alliance are still unknown, the coalition – sometimes referred to as Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism – is the need of the hour for several reasons.

First, terrorism is an international phenomenon with no respect for boundaries. The militant network is spread across countries with hideouts, sources of funding, training grounds and target sites all in different places. In such a situation, zero coordination between Muslim countries allows terrorists to continue with their nefarious plans with impunity. If security forces of the affected countries combine their counterterror efforts, terrorism can be defeated effectively.

Secondly, militant groups have proven they cannot be trusted. As shameful as it is to admit, countries across the Muslim world have used (and some continue to do so) terrorism as a tool to further their agenda. But recently, it has become all the more evident that the policy of using proxies can come back to bite you. In this regard, a military alliance between Muslim countries will encourage a relationship of openness and honesty between the stakeholders and create an environment for addressing differences without violence and hostility.

Thirdly, over the years, extremist groups have hijacked the narrative of Islam associating violence with religion. As Muslim countries lack a counter argument, a military alliance against terrorism will provide a platform to debate and communicate what Islamic nations stand for. This will not only help with discouraging the misuse of religion for terror recruitment but will also help in building trust between the Muslim and non-Muslim world.

Moving forward

Unity between Muslim countries is a prerequisite for the alliance to work and this brings us to the issue of conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia – the self-proclaimed leaders of the Sunni and Shia sects.

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The two regional heavyweights have been at loggerheads since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which saw a pro-Western leader toppled and Shia clerics taking over. The following years witnessed Iran supporting Shia political parties and militias across the Middle East. At the same time, Saudi Arabia began strengthening ties with Sunni governments and propagating its extreme version of Islam in those countries. Since then, the two countries have almost always been on the opposite sides of regional conflicts such as in Iraq, Syria and Yemen; and can be blamed for complicating the disputes and making resolution difficult.

Friendly ties between these two countries are important if the military coalition of Muslim countries has to succeed. While Iran is not formally part of the alliance as yet, efforts are afoot for easing tensions and addressing concerns. In this regard, addressing certain issues first can act as confidence building measures.

Firstly, Iran and Saudi Arabia should be convinced to avoid promoting a particular sect in the regional countries. Both of them should keep their ideologies within the boundaries of their countries and stop funding specific religious seminaries or organisations in foreign countries to increase their influence.

Secondly, they should dispel the impression of being in a proxy war in the Middle East. Both the countries should agree on taking action against all militants groups despite their sectarian affiliation.

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Thirdly, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries should agree to form a council to supervise the anti-terrorism coalition with representatives of all the participating members. This will make the alliance a democratic endeavour with no one country holding more powers.

Imdad Hussain is an Islamabad-based journalist specialising in diplomatic and security issues.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Arif Mohammed
    Apr 24, 2017 - 3:34PM

    Just paranoid.Recommend

  • The way forward
    Apr 24, 2017 - 5:28PM

    Although a daunting task, but Pakistan, to the best of its ability must try to help bridge the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran. At the same time, Pakistan should morally implore Iran to stop supporting Bashar as-Assad who is on a killing rampage in Syria.Recommend

    Apr 24, 2017 - 6:41PM

    Great by Imdad Hussain have good approachRecommend

  • Amit Lunia
    Apr 24, 2017 - 6:54PM

    First of all they should agree to each other’s right to existRecommend

  • Ahmer Ali
    Apr 24, 2017 - 9:52PM

    What will be the role of Muslim military alliance in the current era and how much effectively the this Muslim military alliance will play its role in the resolutions of the issues the Muslim world is facing now-a-days as NATO is playing in the resolutions of issues effectively?For instance,Running war in Syria,human rights’ violations in Indian Occupied Kashmir,Israeli human rights’ violations and illegal and unlawful occupation in Palestine.Recommend

  • Naive
    Apr 24, 2017 - 10:55PM

    @The way forward:
    It is naïve to expect Iran to be influenced by any moral imploration. Don’t you see Iran, much like Daeash, is killing, raping, pillaging the areas it gets under control in Syria in the name of Islam. Both Daeash and Iran exploit the name of Islam to further their aims.Recommend

  • Aleem
    Apr 24, 2017 - 11:13PM

    Both Iran and Saudi Arabia need to stop behaving as if they are the local chaudhries of the Muslim world. Others matter too, not just these two. The fact that the entire Muslim world is being held hostage to the acrimony between these two states is a bad joke for the rest of the Muslim world. The myopic views of both these countries are detrimental to the unity of Muslims.

    Grow up Iran and Saudi Arabia and accommodate each other for the benefit of Muslims all over the world.Recommend

  • Really Naive
    Apr 25, 2017 - 6:38AM

    You are not just naive but also seem to watch lots of fox news. Even Israel wont agree with your comparison of daesh with iran. Who started syrian fiasco? Iran is dragged into into it by US Saudis and other power…they are cornering iran and iran is acting much in self defence. Try and keep the bias off and u will strart seeing the truth. Recommend

  • False analysis
    Apr 25, 2017 - 3:59PM

    @Really Naive:
    It is Iran with its nuclear ambitions that started to upset the status quo–supplementing it with bringing Iraq, Syria, and Yemen rebels under its influence. The chickens have come home to roost.Recommend

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