Newspaper Article 13/06/2017
From Middle East to Europe, Donald Trump’s first overseas visit has ended with lot of regional and international implications. If one can sum up Trump’s maiden visit to Middle East, it can be considered as a visit to contain Iran, not only politically, but also strategically in the region.
There are three dimensions of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, i.e., bilateral dimension (US-Saudi Arabia ties), multilateral dimension (US-GCC cooperation) and efforts of improving civilization ties (US-Islam dialogue). The first two dimensions have larger regional security implications on Middle East and Pakistan. On bilateral US-Saudi Arabia relations, Trump has apparently adopted contradicting policy to his predecessor. President Barack Obama has never had a great relationship with Saudi Arabia. However, During the Trump’s visit, both countries signed multi-billion agreements ranging from defence to commercial activities. Both countries are working for strategic partnership. In this regard, they had agreed to form a joint strategic working group, which will meet at least once a year to discuss security situation of Middle East and Saudi Arabia.
Moreover, both countries have signed US$110 billion defence deals. Among these US$110 billion US dollars deals, the sale of Black Hawk helicopters worth of 6 billion US dollars is significant in nature, which will improve air defence of Saudi Arabia. Moreover, these helicopters can be used for surgical strikes against the neighbouring countries apparently Iran and Yemen. Furthermore, contrary to his predecessor, President Trump has apparently decided to enhance American commercial cooperation with Saudi regime. In this regard, they have signed worth of US$60 billion agreements to improve economic relationship with Saudi Arabia.
These agreements are indicators of US policy shift towards Middle East. In past eight years, the US did not want to actively engage itself in Middle Eastern geostrategic affairs. It had largely confined itself to longstanding cooperation with Israel. However, the new administration has decided to increase its stakes in the region by enhancing cooperation with old strategic partner Saudi Arabia. The US administration is well aware of the fact that defence deals alone are not enough to counter Iranian influence in the region. Hence, President Trump has inaugurated a center “Aitadal” in Saudi Arabia to counter extremists’ and terrorists’ ideology. Apparently, the establishment of this center seems good step. However, the definitional problem of terrorism can start a new ideological war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, because both countries consider each other as promoters of extremist ideology in Middle East.
The second dimension of the visit, US-GCC cooperation also carries the impression of containing strategic Iranian influence in the region. The US-GCC has agreed during Trump’s visit to establish a joint center of countering terrorist financing. As world is aware of the fact, that both the US and GCC consider Syrian regime, Hezbollah, Houthis and dissidents in Bahrain as terrorists groups, hence establishment of this center is a strong message to Iran that GCC under the umbrella of the US will actively counter Iran’s financial support in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Hezbollah etc.
These all actions during Trump’s stay in Saudi Arabia are to contain Iranian ideology and its influence in the region. In this backdrop, concerns of Pakistani intellectual community seem valid that the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance can be used against Pakistan’s neighbour Iran. According to various statements of Pakistani government officials, including Defence Minister, Foreign Secretary and National Security Advisor to PM, Pakistan is committed to join 41-nation Islamic alliance. However, the recent developments have revealed that the alliance is an extension of Arab-American grand strategy to corner Iran, which will further increase rifts between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is a fact that either contained by the US or countered by Saudi Arabia; Iran will remain an important neighbour of Pakistan. Pakistan can neither leave Saudi Arabia nor Iran. Therefore, it should create its image of mediator between the two major Islamic nations. Pakistan should initially join this alliance as a neutral partner or as an observer. It will help Pakistan to maintain balanced foreign policy in troubled Middle Eastern region.
Article originally published in The Nation on June 05, 2017.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.