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June 6, 2017



Together they prevail?


The streets of Riyadh were decorated with huge portraits of King Salman and President Donald Trump for the recently held Riyadh Summit-2017, whose motto was: ‘Together we prevail’. The kingdom tried to send multiple messages to friends and foes through this grand political show.

To show the West that the kingdom is on the path of liberalism and human freedom, the Saudi information ministry had invited, unprecedentedly, 500 journalists from all over the world. I was one of the two journalists invited from Pakistan.

Besides President Trump, the summit was attended by the representatives of more than 50 Muslim countries. However, they were overshadowed completely by President Trump and King Salman. The role of other countries seemed to be no more than that of backbenchers in the grand political show. It was in every respect a US-Saudi affair and ‘together they prevail’.

Both sides created an impression that the decade of the 1980s had returned – an era in which they fought together against communism. This time, the enemies are Al-Qaeda, Isis and Iran. The decade of the 1990s too seemed to be present – an era in which the Arab world was fighting under US command to liberate Kuwait from Iraq. This time, the task is to liberate Yemen from the Houthis and Syria from Bashar al-Assad.

Unlike the cold-war era, this time the threat is huge and includes actors of all kinds. To counter it, the Saudi leadership is courting the US as well as striving hard to form a coalition. The million dollar question is: how will Arab and non-Arab countries work with Saudi Arabia and the US?

The two-day summit glaringly showed the changing nature of world politics and the gap between electoral rhetoric and state policy. It also showed how the law of recompense works and how people reap what they sow.  

For instance, Saudi Arabia and the US joined hands to promote a violent ideology in the 1980s. Today, they join hands to wipe out that very ideology.

During his election campaign, Donald Trump was aggressive against the Muslim world and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, betrayed by Obama’s broken promises, Saudi Arabia had threatened to withdraw money from American banks. Realism prevailed, though, and both sides realised that they were indispensible for each other’s interests. So, keeping aside their grievances and differences, they came together with the motto “Together we prevail”. The point is: can they together prevail? 

The two-day summit had a series of sub-summits – the Arab-Islamic American summit, GCC-American Summit and the Saudi-American Summit. In addition, Donald Trump inaugurated the Global Centre for Combating Extremist Ideology. King Faisal Center for Research and the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition also hosted a conference, but the real show was between the US and Saudi Arabia. The two countries inked a series of important agreements, the most important through which the US will give Saudi Arabia defence equipment worth $110 billion. Both countries signed a strategic vision declaration and also formed a joint working group.

For Trump, the visit was a huge success. He can now assure his people that the Muslim leadership is still in his hand. Saudi Arabia has also earned a lot from the summit. The kingdom’s message to the West was that it is still the leader of the Muslim world. To Iran, the message was that the US is still a partner. How will it end the Middle East crisis, though?

Instead of becoming any hope for peace and stability in the Middle East, the summit created confusion and uncertainty. Practically, the patronage of the Arab coalition has been assigned to the US which does not distinguish among Al-Qaeda, Isis, Hamas and Hezbollah. Adding Hezbollah to Al-Qaeda and Isis could be a source of comfort for the Arab countries, but they would not be happy on the inclusion of Hamas in the same list.

Pakistan, Turkey, Oman etc are on the same page with Saudi Arabia on Isis and Al-Qaeda, but have second thoughts on dealing with Iran in this manner. How they will be part of the coalition – which has Iran on its agenda? Moreover, how they will join a coalition which has no clear agenda?   

Though Trump gave the impression of resolving differences between Islam, Christianity and Judaism by going to Israel and the Vatican after Saudi Arabia, it seems that only Israel will be a direct beneficiary of the recent development in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Iran will probably spend their time now fighting each other instead of Israel. The Palestine crisis used to dominate the scene, but now Syria and Yemen dominate the regional and international front where Iran and Saudi Arabia fight a proxy war.

What should Pakistan do in such a complicated scenario? On the one side are Saudi Arabia and the Arab countries with which Pakistan has close economic ties and on the other side is Iran, which is a neighbour and friend.

In addition, PM Nawaz was not given a chance to speak at the summit, and Trump did not mention Pakistan in his speech either. The Saudi king also avoided mentioning Pakistan’s role during his speech.             Neither Saudi leadership nor the media discussed Raheel Sharif’s role or give any importance to his presence. Given all this, Pakistan might need to review its approach and rethink its role in the post-summit Middle East.


The writer works for Geo TV.

Email: [email protected]