Friday, March 21, 2014

Sharifs Saudis vs Syria Iran - Pakistan playing with Fire?

By: Shah Zalmay Khan
It was probably the Spring of 1980 - Soviet troops had marched into Kabul the past December. Afghanistan was preparing for a showdown (proxy version) between the No.1 and No.2 Chaudhries of the world i.e USA (read Capitalism) and USSR (read Communism).
General Zia with US President Reagan
Pakistan was in the hands of Mard-e-Momin General Zia-ul-Haq and was looking at the Afghan scenario rather anxiously. It is famously quoted that US President Jimmy Carter offered $ 325 million (some say $ 400 million) to General Zia in return for 'services' against the USSR in Afghanistan - Zia rejected this aid pledge as 'peanuts'. However, when offered a bigger pack of 'peanuts' (read more $$$) by President Reagan, Zia decided to jump into the proxy war pool. And boy some bloody peanuts they have been. Pakistan has literally been set on fire & we as a nation have paid a very heavy price for Zia's peanuts. More than a 100,000 Pakistanis have been killed in terrorism (fuelled by these peanuts) since 1980s; our economy has lost roughly $ 150 billion and our 2 generations have been turned into psychos.
The rest, as they say, is history. And history has two lessons for us:
1) History repeats itself. 2) Nobody ever learns from history.
So true. History is upon us 'again' today and sadly we have not learnt anything from it. 3 decades after we started tasting 'peanuts', we are perhaps back to Square One. Zia's legacy seems coming full circle and it is Mard-e-Momin's spiritual son (Nawaz Sharif) at the helm this time. Peanuts are being offered by slightly different stockists - in a different theatre with different packaging - but with similar strings as the deal of 3 decades ago. And the ramifications of going for the 'peanuts deal' are similar (may be more devastating) too.
Saudi Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz with Nawaz Sharif

This time it is the Arab Sheikhs (Saudis & Bahrainis) who are offering peanuts (1.5 billion dollar is OUR price they say). The motives of the Sheikhs are clear, even if the Sharifs - Pakistani rulers - are childishly trying to cover their bare 'behinds' up. The Sheikhs want Pakistan to play a 'paid mercenary' role in their regional war with Iran - especially in the battlefield of Syria (and the less violent Bahrain too). Reports say Pakistani arms will be supplied to Saudi-funded Syrian Sunni rebels - in their civil war with the Alawite (Shia) govt of Bashaar al Assad and Iranian proxy Hezbollah. Reports of Pakistani militants fighting in Syria are already circulating and the militant flow can be expected to get a boost with the 'official' stamping. Bahraini Sheikhs want the Sharifs to go a step further - Pakistani soldiers are being requisitioned to crush the Arab Spring movement in the small Gulf Sheikhdom - led by majority Shia protesters.
What then are Pakistan's Sharifs (in civvies and in uniform) upto? Prime Minister Sharif and Army Chief Sharif have been seen cosy-ing up too much with the Arab Sheikhs lately. Bits of info about the not-so-secret huddles are trickling down to the media and all these bits point to the one frightening fact: Sharifs have decided to jump into the Iran vs KSA (read Shia vs Sunni) sectarian battle.
Do the Sharifs know the ramifications of any such move against Pakistan's western neighbour and its friends/proxies in Syria?
Why have we assumed that Iran will silently watch us play this dirty game?
What if Iran responds (and it surely will) in coin?
Don't we know that Iran is a master of proxy wars (successful ones) itself?
Don't we know what Iran-trained fighters (e.g. Hezbollah) are capable of?
What if Iran creates a Hezbollah from within the Shia population of Pakistan?
Have we forgotten that suicide bombings as a war technique were actually perfected by Iran-backed Shia groups (including Hezbollah) during Lebanon's civil war?
October 1983: Beirut US/French Barracks Bombing
Have we forgotten the deadly attacks like Beirut barracks bombing (1983) that killed 300 US marines & French paratroopers?
Don't we know Lebanon's sectarian/ethnic civil war claimed thousands of lives and continues to do so?
Don't we realize nearly 50,000 have died since 2011 in Shia-Sunni sectarian war in Syria?
Pakistan is already facing a Sunni-led terrorism-cum-insurgency in the North-west (KPK+FATA) and the terrorists are tightening noose over Karachi. Can we afford a full-blown Shia-led insurgency-cum-terrorism spree? Shias blowing up mosques & Sunni neighbourhoods - Sunnis blowing up Imam Bargahs & Shia neighbourhoods?
All this sounds too far-fetching? Bad news: it isn't that far-fetching either.
Sunni sectarian groups funded by Saudis (e.g LeJ) are already bombing Shia neighbourhoods indiscriminately. In response, Shia sectarian groups backed by Iran (e.g SeM) are targeting Sunnis. There is however, a marked difference. Shia militants target the Sunni sectarian groups only & common Sunnis are largely spared. But how long will this difference remain there? What if Shia militants start targeting Sunni-majority areas indiscriminately (like LeJ targets Hazara Town in Quetta)? Sunni militants are already attacking our army/police etc. What if Shia militants start doing the same? Rest assured, an increased Iranian involvement will do just that. What will be the consequences? A full-blown sectarian war similar to Syria or Lebanon is the only logical conclusion. Can Pakistan afford such a doomsday scenario?
Even imagining such a scenario should run shivers down the Sharifs' spines but they seem to be too busy with Metro Buses to realize that. All that matters perhaps is that some Saudi dollars remain at disposal of Ishaq Dar and that the Sharifs' business interests in KSA are protected. Whether Pakistan becomes Syria or Lebanon - 'who cares'.
What then is the choice for us Pakistanis? PTI Chairman Imran Khan has spoken the heart of all Pakistanis on the issue: "Stay the hell out of this sectarian mess".

Like Imran Khan, the whole nation needs to stand up today & tell the Sharifs: "Stay the hell out of this sectarian mess".
Do it today Pakistan - or their will be no tomorrow.
The writer is a tribesman from Bajaur Agency (FATA) and tweets at @PTI_FATA .
(No official association with PTI)

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official PTI webpage and is run by a group of volunteers having no official position in PTI. All posts are personal opinions of the bloggers and should, in no way, be taken as official PTI word.
With Regards,
"Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf FATA Volunteers" Team.

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