Pak-Saudi spat and deepening fissures across the Muslim world

Pakistan's Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa (middle) with Khalid bin Salman (right), Deputy Defence Minister Saudi Arabia during a meeting in Riyadh on August 18. Despite requests Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman refused to meet Gen. Bajwa and he had to return back to Rawalpindi.
Pakistan's Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa (middle) with Khalid bin Salman (right), Deputy Defence Minister Saudi Arabia during a meeting in Riyadh on August 18. Despite requests Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman refused to meet Gen. Bajwa and he had to return back to Rawalpindi.

The new Islamic syndicate, though still at the conceptual stage, is pushed mainly by Turkey and Pakistan. Iran, the lone Shi’a Muslim State, and traditionally not friendly with the Sunnis would be an odd man in the contemplated syndicate. Malaysia, after the ignominious exit of Mahathir Mohamad, is almost on the horns of a dilemma. The idea receives cautious support from China. It is so because in the furtive Kuala Lumpur Islamic meet last year, Mahathir had put Uighur issue also on the agenda. Nevertheless, China will not withhold its blessings to the initiative for known reasons. Initiators hope Russia will be on board. Moscow will have to think twice about the impact of its cooperation with the syndicate on the Muslim majority republics of Central Asia which have already rejected Islamic radicalism. Will Moscow opt for the company of radicalized Islamists, is an interesting question. An Eurasian power, Russian Federation’s primary interests are in the European Continent.

The Kuala Lumpur unproductive move for cobbling an alternate to Saudi-dominated centrality of the Muslim ummah left nobody in doubt that the ummah showed fissures deepening along ethnic lines. The divide is the Arab Muslim states versus non-Arab Muslim states. The latter category is of people of non-Semitic stock who were converted to Islamic faith after the rapid expansion of Islam among the non-Semitic races, particularly the Aryan and the Turkic.

Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and Malaysia all are of non-Semitic stock. A problem with almost all non-Arab Islamized societies is that they have inherited a split personality. They are unable to abandon their pre-Islamic backlog. To prove to the Arab Islamic world that they are very faithful to the new creed, these proselytized non-Semitics have been the fiercest enemies of their ancient culture and its symbols. Ethnic cleansing of Kashmir as late as 1990 is also traceable to this split-personality.

The ethnic and racial division among the Muslims has also led to the concept of good and bad Musalman, something we do not find in any other religion. Since the desk book definition of a good Musalman is not universally established, it became very easy to accuse a liberal Muslim as a non-conformist and bring about charges like blasphemy against him or her. It will be noted that following the recent Pakistan-Saudi Arab spat, Pakistan media lost no time in charging the Saudi ruler Muhammad bin Salman with anti-Islamic idiosyncrasy.

Though the idea is still in the embryonic stage, yet speculation is rife who between Pakistan and Turkey will replace Saudi Arabia as the epicenter of the Islamic world. Iran is out of the question because it is considered the odd man in Islamic fraternity. 

Some believe Pakistan has an edge over Turkey. As Pakistan is the only nuclear power among Muslim states; she is strategically better located; in collaboration with the Iranian naval force she can play important role in the Gulf region in controlling its trade channels. Pakistan has highly committed and trained radical Islamic terrorist legions and organizations nurtured at home which she will deploy as the frontline defence and offence strategy in case of a war. Additionally, Pakistan’s handler, viz. China has full control of Pakistan’s defence establishment and economy.

Turkey has already opened the bombast of the Ottoman Empire and is more than willing to fantasize with the dream of Ottoman glory. Of course, Turkey has acquired the technology of advanced military hardware production ever since she was a member of CENTO (Central Treaty Organization).

Why are the non-Arab Islamic states pursuing the ouster of Saudi Arabia as the religious leader of the ummah?

There are various perceptions. These could be summed up as follows: (a) Saudi monarchy is close to the US while the US gives little importance to the broader interests of the ummah (b) On the behest of the US, Saudi Arabia has adopted a mild and conciliatory attitude towards Israel. The recent friendship and cooperation agreement between the UAE and Israel have matured owing to the support of both Saudi and Washington. This is considered an act against the expectations of the ummah. (c) The Saudi monarchy prompts other Arab states to recognize Israel and come to reconciliation and (d) Saudi dominated OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) has become ineffective in protecting the interests of the Muslims on a global level.

A shock from which the non-Arab Islamic states like Pakistan, Turkey and Iran do not come out is that the Saudi monarch Mohammed bin Salman, having been educated in the western world, is trying to change the traditional policy of Islamic conservatism to liberalism. He has already brought about many social reforms and more are on the anvil. He pursues a policy of befriending many countries that were hitherto disregarded by previous monarchs. If he is allowed to go ahead with a drastically liberalized policy, it will have a far-reaching impact on the existing conservative social structure of their societies and undermine the strength of orthodox Islam. This is the deep contradiction within the Islamic fold which historians have been underlining for quite some time.

Pakistan’s claim that the refusal of the Saudi monarch to call OIC foreign ministers’ meet to discuss Kashmir is the real cause of deepening fissures in the ummah is far-fetched and a propaganda stunt. Pakistan wants to sell this story to the emotional Kashmiris. The reality is that in private, the Saudis ask Pakistan why the OIC should not consider the issue of Baluchistan, Pukhtoonistan, Turkish Kurds, Yezidis and the Uighurs of Xinjiang if the issue of Kashmir Muslims is to be taken up. Are not they Muslims and under suppression? The narrative came as a bolt from the blue for Pakistan. Following his ingrained instinct of belligerence, Pakistani foreign minister issued a threat to the Saudis that he would be calling a meeting of Muslim foreign ministers on his own. It indirectly meant that he (and his bandwagon travelers) had decided to create a new organization and sideline the Saudis.

Saudi reaction was prompt and unambiguous. The lifelong benefactor of Pakistan wondered at the thanklessness of the beneficiary. Pakistan mobilized its media to denounce the behaviour of the Saudi monarch saying that he had come out in true colours. General Bajwa’s intervention has not produced any result and now out of desperation he visited Saudi kingdom not to iron out the angularities but to beg the royal favour to the continuation of twenty-five thousand Pakistani soldiers deployed as bodyguard to the Saudi monarch. But will the monarch continue to repose trust in this strong force in the light of Pakistani foreign minister’s shameless statement. Mohammed bin Salman refused to meet General Bajwa and he has now returned back.

Obviously, many actors will jump into the fray to stop the escalation of differences and repair the damage done. The Saudis appear to have indicated at least three conditions for reconciliation and the ball is in the court of Pakistan. But it is reliably learnt that the Saudis will not conduct any reconciliation talks unless Imran Khan removes his foreign minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi. This man cannot escape becoming a casualty of the row he himself initiated. Saudis are far more adept in astute diplomacy and they know that removal of Pak foreign minister is what Imran Khan would like to happen in the heart of hearts because Qureshi had raised eyebrows on Imran Khan succumbing to the threats of Saudi monarch on Kuala Lumpur episode. Ever since, some of his lobbyists had been projecting him as the one who could replace Imran Khan.

Whatever will be the future shape and structure of the ummah, it is clear that old order has changed and old trusts have been betrayed. It is for the people of Pakistan to tell their government whether it is advisable to stretch differences with the Saudi kingdom and be prepared to see lakhs of Pakistani daily wagers packing up from their work places in the Saudi and heading homewards home to be restored to a phase of hunger and poverty.

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