By General Mirza Aslam Beg
The sectarian divide of the Muslim World has been the cause of serious conflicts in the past, and continues to have its toll, particularly for the last thirty years, with external forces exploiting this weakness. The countries which have suffered most are Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Palestine’ Lebanon and Pakistan, and the one being targeted now, is Bahrain, from where the New Great Game begins.
On a larger canvas, one would find that, during the last thirty years, sectarianism has grow into “two centers of power”, namely the Pakhtun Power and the Shia Power, determining the security parameters of the entire Asian region. These ‘centers of power’ can be called, the Sectarian Tectonic Plates, which could shake the world peace if they collide and if they collude, a new era of peace and unity would emerge.
These centers of power, have grown out of the great turmoil caused by contrived wars and conflicts in the region, through interventions, state-sponsored terrorism, contrived conflicts, such as the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1980; the eight years war of liberation by the Afghans from 1980 to 88; the eight years Iran-Iraq war from 1980-88); the first Gulf War of 1991; the nine years civil war in Afghanistan from 1992-2001; invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by USA and allies in 2001-2011; invasion and occupation of Iraq by USA in 2003-2011; Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006 and the on-going brutal wars in Palestine and Kashmir. As a result, more than six million Muslims have died and many more millions seriously wounded, maimed and decapitated – a brutality, which ironically has earned the title of ‘terrorists’ for the brutalized and the oppressors call themselves the ‘messengers of peace.’ As a reaction to this state- sponsored terrorism, the Islamic Global Resistance grew to contain and curb the menace, and turned into a movement, which has lasted for almost thirty years, giving birth to Pakhtun and Shia Powers.
The Pakhtun Power. The hard core of this power base is in the Pakhtun belt, along the Pak-Afghan borders, with 24 millions of Pakhtuns living in Pakistan and 17 millions in Afghanistan. Its area of influence extends from Karachi with four million Pakhtuns, to the line of Hindukush. It has developed into a formidable base for the “Islamic Resistance, which draws “support of the freedom fighters from seventy countries of the world.” During the last thirty years, it has defeated two super powers, and NATO. The defeated powers, therefore, are now planning “to contain and curb the Pakhtun Power, the greatest threat to US interests in the region” – David Kilkullen, Security Advisor to the former US President. This purpose can be achieved by making the two powers collide with each other.
The Shia Power extends from Iran to Iraq, to Bahrain and to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where significant Shia minority resides. The Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, was contrived to create hatred between the Shias and the Sunnis. Iraq has since been occupied and defeated, but Iran is defiant and is being demonized as a threat for the Sunni countries in the region, who out of fear are arming themselves against Iran and have bought military hardware worth over 150xbillion dollars from USA, during the last seven years. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, GCC countries and Jordan are the main recipients of the military hardware, and are preparing themselves to fight the so called Shia threat.
Bahrain, which is a Shia majority country, and is ruled by the Sunni minority, is facing intervention by Saudi and GCC armed forces, under the watchful eyes of the West, as part of the Gulf countries Joint Peninsula Shield Force. Iran calls it as “invasion by an army of occupation,” while the United States has declared that the “entry of foreign troops was not an invasion.” The Shia led protests seeking to break the 200 years old Sunni rule in Bahrain, and military intervention by the neighbouring Sunni countries marks the unfolding of the conspiracy to make the Sunni and Shia countries collide, whereas during the past thirty years, sectarian riots were induced in Iraq and Pakistan and now “the nations are being pitched against each other.” It is the beginning of the New Great Game, to damage the unity of the Muslim World.
The US intelligence agencies operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan are hand-in-glove with the Indian and European intelligence agencies in Afghanistan since 2004, and have been able to turn the Afghan war on Pakistan. Pakistan military thus is engaged in a running battle against its own Pakhtun tribes. Additionally, more than hundred thousand troops are deployed on the Pak-Afghan borders, in support of the American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. In fact, Pakistan has unwittingly become a party to the crime, for defeat and destruction of the Pakhtun Power, which is the name of the New Great Game of the competing powers in the region.
Both, the Pakhtun Power and Shia Power, are a significant element of our national power and must be harnessed to enhance our national security at this very critical moment in history, when a strong wind of change is sweeping the Muslim World. In Pakistan, we already have a burning problem in Parachinar, Kurram Agency, due to involvement of the neighbouring countries with so much of blood letting there, since the occupation of Afghanistan in 2001 by foreign powers. It is a dangerous trend, so clearly visible now in Bahrain, where the Saudi and GCC countries have entered to support the Sunni ruler with full blessings of the West. These are very ominous signs, making the Sectarian Tectonic Plates collide and damage the prospects of unity of the Muslim World.
The revolutionary upsurge in the Arab World, demands democratic freedom and social justice and equally ignites the Pakistani mind. Fortunately we have a democratic rule in Pakistan, which can deliver social justice and civil liberties, despite all the faults of the present system. We have to give it a chance to correct itself. We need political peace and stability, which will come if we show patience. And the best to happen to our national security, would be, the departure of the occupation forces from Afghanistan – the Mother of All Evil.
Pakistan thus stands at the choice point to experiment democratic governance, unpolluted and free from foreign intrusions and intrigues. Sectarian divide is a great weakness, which can be overcome democratically, through political wisdom. Also awareness is fast developing in the Muslim society about the negative impacts/consequences of sectarianism.