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Can IMCTC Become the “Islamic NATO”?

What are the realistic prospects for the success of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition?

Alliance is an active agent in the realm of International Relations and perhaps forms the core of the field in its practical manifestation. Mainly created to cater the mutual needs of many countries, the world has witnessed unions of even the most unlikely states. Military alliance however, is a composed term and the aim reflects the term itself – national security of oneself (and other included partners) through mutual intelligence sharing and armed training or operations.

Different situations though out history have resulted in numerous alliances but the most recent shift in shaping a new worldly alliance has been in the Middle East driven by the oil -rich Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Taking the leader’s role in the Middle East and the much larger Islamic world in particular, the state’s then young Defense minister and now Crown Prince Salman Al Saud announced the formation a thirty four state Islamic Military Alliance. The Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition(IMCTC) is set to be launched on Sunday.

Amid the simmering Saudi-Iran rivalry, the coalition has gained much-needed attention but before delving into that, let’s shed light on the happenings in the past.

Apart from the inter-regional clashes like the Gulf War back in the decades, the Middle Eastern countries stayed rather calm and worked on maintaining their ties until their involvement in proxy wars and funding of rebel and extremists Sunni groups started to cause some internal infections.

Major chunk of funding to the Islamic State was made by the Saudis and company while Qatar supported Muslim Brotherhood in the region. The unnoticed internal swellings within the Arab world first showed in Tunisia from where the “Arab Spring” started to unfold in later part of 2010 and start of 2011 due to which countries like Syria and Libya have been turned into ruins.

To maintain the order within the Gulf states and to surf the tidal wave of Arab Spring , the  already existing solely GCC oriented “Peninsula Shield Force” was called in by Bahrain to assist in maintaining its security , this was the force’s latest  deployment since the year 2003 in Kuwait .

Existence of this force indigenous to the Gulf States now seems inadequate to deal the threat present at large. These   foreign  funded elements fueled sectarian divide within other countries including Pakistan in pervious, during the Arab Spring to escalate the government and civilian clashes and  now are active on multiple fronts including those in Yemen, Iraq, Iran and against Assad in Syria. Former   intelligence chief Prince Bandar played risky cards in support of Nusra Front in Syria then still growing Islamic State of Iraq with intentions to promote Sunni version of Islam and to form favored governmental blocks only to later realize the extent of the extremist mindset and vision to revive Caliphate across the Muslim world and their aversion of the West. After Yemen intervention and Saudi’s vow to topple Assad, bordering Saudi cities were targeted by ISIS to which the response was a massive counterterrorism force.

With reverses and setbacks for Riyadh and its allies in Syria and Iraq, the alliance will have its work cut out, especially given the very many challenges that the alliance faces even before its formal launch.

By forming such an alliance Saudi’s prime objective to expand and maintain its dominance in the region can be entertained along with the export of its Sunni version of Islam, and to deal with terrorism within the country and the Islamic world at large since now the Kingdom seems to understand the scale of the threat.

The stance itself speaks of sudden awaking by the Arab States after the spill of their  proxy games have turned the tables .To prepare their forces for extreme action Saudi Arabia hosted a 20 nation military drill in King Khalid Military city joined in by Arab and other Muslim countries including Pakistan. Dubbed as “North Thunder” it is term as the largest military exercise to have ever taken place in the region and Saudis later called for making a force similar to NATO. The military spending by the Arab states might be for the greater good but the economies of the oil rich states are already feeling the heat.

Practically the concept of forming a force like NATO should serve the intentions of Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries but the viability in foreseeable future seem to be dim. The provided list of counties included in the military alliance- one exclude any majority Shia state , second- not all agree  on the extent of military interventions under any  circumstances ,thirdly- some of the included African states are not majority  Muslim states but most importantly is the vague definition and acts considered as terrorism. The jurisdiction of this force is another serious question that needs working so by now the” whom”, “when” and the “how” have not been seriously addressed which leaves question marks on the idea itself.

IMCTC is being led by Pakistan’s decorated former Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif. The four-infantry general, cognizant of his country’s delicate balancing act has made it clear that he won’t be part of a force targeting one country.

Pakistan’s position among the alliance itself is outstanding as the country has dealt with interstate terrorism on a massive scale and owns unmatched nuclear assets and is on the verge of untangling the sectarian clashes, so experience here is a bonus point for Pakistan, giving it an important edge in the 41-member alliance.

Unlike NATO countries which practice “separation of the church and state” rule in their military workings, the Islamic military coalition cannot overcome the religious element which still resides even in the O.I.C.

Here comes the very basic feature of a state functioning – its foreign policy. Case in point can be Pakistan’s refusal to become a member of the Saudi led coalition force and its military intervention in Yemen. Pakistan and few other states maintained their distance and called for peaceful dialogs as for most the Yemen’s situation was an internal matter, also Yemen itself can be studied as a case in point of full scale military intervention in any other state. Given the possible chance that sound guidelines and clauses are set out in order to avoid any unnecessary military involvement, any state still can object to the matter and chose to withdraw owing to its policies. Pakistan’s decision against military intervention in any state is a safe stance but not the same can be said for the other members. Formation of such an alliance would also mean an end to proxy wars against other member states. However, this feature is at odds with the states’ grandiose designs in the region.

NATO over the years has evolved into a mature organization but the formation of Islamic NATO will require clean chits by every member state along with vow of full cooperation including efforts of narrowing down the religious divide. But the behavior by GCC members with Iran and its exclusion from the coalition casts dark shadow on the very intention of the force itself.  Most members in coalition’s list have internal troubles, be it Turkey against PKK, the intra-GCC tiff; rest of the members against the almost-finished ISIS  or even Boko Haram. Moreover, each member also supports rebel elements for personal advantage , hence with this dreadful situation on ground,  working of an Islamic force will hardly be effective in the near future. Also, Pakistan has categorically denounced taking sides in the rivalry and is even bolstering ties with Iran. It deprives the alliance of the services of the best fighting force from within the coalition

By the look of things, Iran appears to be the prime target of the alliance, especially given that the ISIS has been virtually defeated. Also, the unqualified support given by President Trump earlier this year during the Riyadh Summit and the desire on part of Saudi Arabia to bleed Iran and its proxies has meant that the IMCTC will most likely be used to take the Saudi-Iranian to another level.

However, the composition, the military strength, the infighting and also a stronger enemy will most likely preclude its success.

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