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May 16, 2017

Beyond the hostilities


May 16, 2017

vThe exclusion of Iran from the US-Arab-Islamic summit this month is likely to sour ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia even further and sharpen the sectarian divide across the Muslim world. The summit will closely be monitored by analysts in Damascus, Moscow, Beijing and Tehran.

It is believed that the Saudis have found a more favourable ear in Washington under Trump, who echoed their concerns about Iran’s influence in the region. Saudi Arabia wants to seize this opportunity to curtail the influence of Iran.

It is interesting to note that rivalries between Muslim countries and militancy in the Islamic world have been greatly benefiting the Western world for decades. For instance, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 sent a shiver down the spine of Arab’s rulers, forcing them to strike expensive arms deals with Western countries to ward off the spread of the revolution. Saudi Arabia had pumped 43 billion pounds into the Al-Yamamah arms deal with the UK, saving around 11,000 jobs in Europe. The Iran-Iraq war also enriched the merchants of death in London, Paris and Washington who have thrived on this for years.

The First Gulf War cost an exorbitant amount to the Arab states.          The destruction of oil wells and pipelines, telecommunications, roads, buildings and factories cost Kuwait $160 billion and Iraq $190 billion. In addition to this, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the gulf emirates made $84 billion in direct payments to Britain, France and the US for military expenses. Direct logistical support for the 600,000 American and allied troops in Saudi Arabia between August 1990 and March 1991 and the rush to build military airstrips and camps cost another $51 billion, which was paid largely by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The war contributed to a drop in GNP for the 21 Arab countries, which was estimated at 1.2 percent in 1990 and seven percent in 1991.

After 9/11, transnational terrorist outfits wreaked more havoc with Muslim countries than in any other part of the world. This prompted Muslim countries, especially the Arab states, to spend a large amount on defence. The Saudis once again showered their blessings on British companies by striking a Euro Fighters deal worth around 20 billion pounds in 2006. In recent years, Riyadh has been kind to Washington as well, doling out an arms contract worth around $35 billion – the largest export deal in US history.

The civil war in Syria cost the country 220 billion euros, the proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran in Yemen caused losses worth more than $14 billion to one of the poorest countries in the world, Libya suffered losses worth a whopping $68 billion just in potential oil revenue since 2013 and the Taliban insurgency resulted in losses of over $40 billion to Pakistan in over a decade.

Despite these heavy losses, it seems that Muslim countries, Tehran and Riyadh in particular, are not ready to mend their ways. Their bellicosity is stoking more fears among Muslim states, prompting them to drift into the lap of the Western, capitalist world. Between May 2015 and May 2016, the US alone sold arms in billions to the Gulf states. Iran’s defence budget is $19 billion for the year 2016-17 alone and a devastated Iraq is going to buy arms worth $22 billion over a period of 12 years from the US alone. Turkey and Pakistan have also spent over $50 billion in a decade. Trump is in the conservative kingdom with an arms deal package for Saudi Arabia.

A combination of senseless spending and oppressive rule in the Muslim world has spawned a myriad of problems that Muslim countries are finding difficult to grapple with. From Yemen to Somalia and Afghanistan to Bangladesh, millions of Muslims are living in abject poverty and have therefore been forced to join radical outfits. Rival wealthy Muslim countries are pumping billions of dollars into relatively poor Muslim states to advance their sectarian agendas. This has triggered a wave of destabilisation in several parts of the Muslim world.

We need to remember that France and Britain fought for over 100 years on religious matters, European powers waged a 30-year religious war and several other countries of the continent continued to shed blood in the name of religion even after 1648. But such conflicts do not feature in European politics any longer. If Muslim countries have to move ahead, they have no option but to put a halt on sectarian hostilities.

If Iran can befriend China and Russia, why is it reluctant to extend a hand of friendship towards Riyadh and its Gulf neighbours? If Saudi Arabia and the GCC can hobnob with Washington and London, what stops them from offering an olive branch to Damascus and Tehran?

The cessation of hostilities, a halt on non-productive military spending and the diversion of resources towards human development should be the goal of Muslim countries if they want to compete in the modern world. The vast amount that the Gulf countries have spent in the last 30 years should be enough to build hundreds of universities which are far better than Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. Why don’t countries like the GCC states and Iran, help poor Muslim states through health, education and pure drinking water projects instead of fanning sectarianism?

Proxies will bring death and destruction to poor countries like Yemen but assistance in social development will save millions of lives in Muslim countries. We do not need proxies or demagogues but excellent doctors, engineers, scientists, teachers and researchers. This can be achieved in no time provided we have the will to put our differences aside and work towards a common goal.


The writer is a Karachi-based freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]


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