Air Commodore ® Khalid Iqbal
Pakistan’s national security is intricately linked to the stability in the Middle East. Immediate impact is visible in the form of repatriation of expatriates. As long as the struggle of the people of Middle East remained an internal matter of respective country, Pakistani public viewed it as a part of political process. However, foreign intervention in Libya has drawn a sharp negative reaction from Pakistani public.
Recent uprising in the Middle East was long overdue. An artificial political order imposed on the Middle East region after World War I, has ever since been simmering and looking for an opportunity for its logical return to roots. Unnatural balkanization never went down well amongst the masses of Middle East. Formation of erstwhile United Arab Republic by three Arab countries and an aborted plan regarding merger of Libya and Egypt are examples of such attempts to return towards unified and strong Arab states in the Middle East.
Creation of Israel at the end of World War II by supplanting a legitimate state of Palestine resulted in a human tragedy that added to the volatility of the region. Three non conclusive Arab-Israel wars have further compounded the agony of the masses. The forces of change have asserted themselves over and over again. Initial wave of change occurred in the nineteen fifties and sixties when military revolts overthrew some of the monarchies. However, the advantage of change never tickled down to common man. New rulers soon became as authoritarian as their predecessors were. Collusion between the agents of external hegemony and perpetrators of internal tyranny sabotaged the purpose of these revolutions. Ensuing frustration amongst the masses became the driving force for subsequent waves of unrest.
Abdication of Arab cause by Egypt via Camp David accord was a major setback to the struggle of Palestinians. While ignoring the popular sentiment, most of the Arab rulers tacitly followed the line of Egypt in the context of Israel. Though rulers of the Middle East capitulated, the people never reconciled. Assassination of President Anwar Sadat was a violent expression of public sentiment. So far pro status quo elements have prevailed. So called revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt have been hijacked by pro-Western forces. Uprisings in Bahrain and Yemen are likely to go the same way; though Yemen may end up in a partition. Unrest in Syria may follow the Libyan route.
Middle East in particular and the Muslim world in general are living under the shadow of profound anti-Islamic prejudices. Even there is no tolerance for symbols associated with Islam and Muslims. Outcry against benign things like ‘Hijab’ and minarets indicate the undercurrents of intolerance for Islam as a way of life. On the political side, Turkey’s inability to get the membership of European Union is a case in point. Obstacles created in the way of transfer of power to popularly elected governments of Algeria and Palestine Authority has exposed the myth of love for democracy by the western democracies. Inaction on deplorable violation of human rights of the people of Gaza shows an attitude of selectivity in this domain as well.
Popular perception has it that the United Nation is very prompt to take action when an uprising is in a Muslim country; an all out effort is made to settle the dispute quickly and in favour of non-Muslims, as it happened in East Timor, and lately in Sudan. Foot dragging is clearly visible when Muslims could be the beneficiary of any such settlement; disputes of Palatine and Kashmir are the examples.
There is a marked difference in the approaches taken by the western countries towards uprisings in all other countries of Middle East as compared to the hostile line of action followed in case of Libya. Where, hangover of PAN AM 103 seems to be the main driving force. Focus in all other countries was to either protect the regime or make a cosmetic transition by handpicking the successor regime which could ensure continuity. In Libya focus is on decimating the military capability, regime change and partition of the country.
In the neighbourhood of Arab countries, Iranian revolution has survived over four decades. This model has radiated its effects in adjoining areas. This revolution happened due to simultaneous readiness of the public and the alternative leadership. Intricate relationship between these two vital ingredients of revolution severs both as a source of national strength and a system of checks and balances. Even detractors concede that expression of disagreement after the previous election was a voice for an in-house political change and not an expression of anti-revolution sentiment.
Iran has played a role of a facilitator of stability in post elections’ Iraq; it is positively engaged with Afghan government and has enabled Lebanon in achieving a relatively better political steadiness. Iranian revolution presents a way forward sans submission to neo-colonial powers. Nevertheless, even after four decades, existential threats to Iranian revolution are of grave magnitude and resurgence of regressive forces cannot be ruled out. Iran’s economic and social strangulation through sanctions, threats of invasion on the pretext of nuclear issues and subversion through discontented elements make a potent complex of external intervention and internal intrigue.
A silent change has taken place in Turkey over the past one decade or so. It has receded from its march towards secular ideals and European identity. Democratic process has taken firm roots, economy has been turned around and pride of a common Turk stands boosted.
Lebanon went through a long spell of painful instability, and is far from sustainable calm. Deep seeded discord amongst the Shia and Sunni have plunged this unfortunate country into a precarious situation. A Muslim majority country is on its knees in front of manipulative Christian minority. Another cause of its troubles is its close proximity to Israel. Keeping in view the proxy wars, and sectarian biased alignment of its mainstream politicians, Lebanon is poised to remain instable for an indefinite period of time. This does not represent a tenable model for change.
Middle East is poised to undergo the change but in multiple stages. Pro status quo forces are rather strong and have the capacity of bouncing back several times. Neo-colonial powers are at the back of the elements striving for continuity of existing policies of Middle East states, especially in the context of two core interests of neo-colonial powers; these are continuous supply of cheap oil and territorial integrity of Israel.
While living under the shadow of these insecure circumstances masses in the Middle East are looking for a paradigm shift in the domestic as well as international policies of their countries. Those striving for change may be in for a long haul. Prevalent anti-Islam prejudices and phobias are poised to intensify the urge and tempo of pro-change forces. In distant timeframe, Middle East seems poised to move towards emergence of larger and stronger states through intermediary stages of uprisings and disturbances. Emergent states are likely to be less pro-Western, more pro-Islamic and less friendly towards Israel.