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  Opinion   Edit  28 Mar 2017  New ‘Islamic’ force is a flawed concept

New ‘Islamic’ force is a flawed concept

Published : Mar 28, 2017, 4:34 am IST
Updated : Mar 28, 2017, 4:38 am IST

There is lack of clarity about the structure and remit of this incipient “Muslim Nato”, which appears more of a “Sunni Nato”.

Raheel Sharif. (Photo: AFP/File)
 Raheel Sharif. (Photo: AFP/File)

There is no official statement from either Islamabad or Riyadh, but on Friday Pakistan’s defence minister Khwaja Asif let slip on a television programme that former Army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif, who retired in November, has been appointed to lead the 39-nation Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT), that will be headquartered in the Saudi capital. There is lack of clarity about the structure and remit of this incipient “Muslim Nato”, which appears more of a “Sunni Nato”. In Pakistan this is understood to have become a controversial matter even though a contingent of its Army has been stationed inside Saudi Arabia since the mid-60s to defend the kingdom, which has a special status in the world of Sunni Islam for being the keeper of Islam’s holiest places. But for us in India, the appointment will be noted with irony.

Gen. Sharif is doubtless one of Pakistan’s most esteemed former Army chiefs. He tried to collar the Pakistani Taliban after they attacked a school for children of military personnel, and gained some success. But he hewed to the standard military line of carrying on the proxy war — through the use of chosen terrorist outfits — against India as well as Afghanistan. This graphically came to light after Pakistani terrorists struck the Indian Army’s brigade headquarters in Kashmir’s Uri.

If so-called “Hindu” India has been portrayed as an existential enemy in Pakistani Army doctrine and by the country’s mullah constituencies, there appears a wider consensus on subjugating Afghanistan through the use of terrorist proxies for reasons of regional geopolitics. It is hard to see how any government in Kabul can be happy to permit the insertion of IMAFT forces to check terrorism when it is led by a Pakistani chief. This makes the very concept of IMAFT flawed.

Terrorism engulfs the world of Islam. The most prominent countries in the news in this context happen to be Shia nations — Syria and Iraq — and the Houthi Shia rebel-held areas of Yemen where Saudi Arabia led a military campaign to bolster the Sunni side. Sunni nations too — Libya is a good example — are also being destroyed by Islamic extremists and terrorists. Off and on Saudi Arabia itself has been in the crosshairs of Sunni terrorists for permitting American troops, who are seen as infidels, on its soil.

What does that make IMAFT? A force against Iran-led Shia Islam? Or a force to defend Saudi Arabia in the final analysis? We shall know soon, but there should be little surprise if the so-called military alliance, first spoken of in late 2015, is proposed by some to be an adjunct of the Organisation of Islamic Conference. That will reinforce the idea that it is a dud.

Tags: raheel sharif, imaft, khwaja asif