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Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Military Alliance must not become an anti-Iran coalition

How does Saudi Arabia plan to contain terrorism in the region without including Iran, Iraq and Syria? The duplicity of Pakistan being a part of an anti-terror coalition cannot be missed when highlighting IMA’s demerits

editorials Updated: Nov 28, 2017 12:14 IST
Hindustan Times
Saudi Arabia,Riyadh,Islamic Military Alliance
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and defence minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (C) with defence ministers and officials at a meeting of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, November 26(AFP)

The attack at the Al Rawda mosque, in Bir al-Abed, 200 km from Cairo, Egypt, last week, in which at least 305 people died and more than 190 were injured, reminds us of the danger terror poses to West Asia and North Africa region. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack; but, given that the target was the minority Sufi Muslim community, it is suspected to be Islamic State (IS). IS has lost the majority of the territory it held in Iraq and Syria, but it’s premature to write off the terror group, which called itself the ‘Caliphate’.

It is in this context that the Islamic Military Alliance (IMA), headed by Saudi Arabia, gains importance. Conceived in 2015 by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, who is also the kingdom’s defence minister, the IMA had its first high-level meeting in Riyadh on Sunday. The prince vowed to “pursue terrorists until they are wiped from the face of the earth”, and said that the lack of coordination among nations “ends today, with this alliance”.

Unlike the United States or Nato, which are perceived as ‘foreign forces’, an anti-terror coalition comprising and headed by nations in the region is bound to be more acceptable. Fighting terror is a costly affair, and Riyadh taking the lead should instil confidence in other members. Most importantly, the IMA has many nations from north, west and central Africa — all hotbeds for terror groups.

The IMA has its merits, but its structural flaws could debilitate the alliance.

That it is a predominantly a club of Sunni-states puts a question mark over its intent and definition of ‘terror’ and ‘terrorists’. How does Saudi Arabia plan to contain terrorism in the region without including Iran, Iraq and Syria? Nations across the divide joined hands to tackle the IS menace in Iraq and Syria. A similar, non-partisan approach is what is required now. Tehran, on its part, must stop its support to militant groups like Hezbollah. The region is of great interest to India and peace achieved through any alliance is welcome news. However, it is cold comfort for New Delhi that the commander-in-chief of the IMA is former Pakistani army chief Raheel Sharif. The duplicity of Pakistan being a part of this coalition cannot be missed when highlighting IMA’s demerits.

The Riyadh-led alliance is a necessity, but if it shortcomings are not addressed, it would become yet another attempt to form an anti-Shia, anti-Iran axis — a move that has contributed considerably to escalating tension in West Asia. If Saudi Arabia is serious about tackling terror, it should turn the focus within (something it has partially done), and be more inclusive.

First Published: Nov 28, 2017 10:50 IST