The Arab League is faltering since the ‘Gulf Arabs’ usurped the leadership of Arabism. Historically, Cairo, Baghdad and Damascus led the way — the brain, heart and soul of the Arab world. But with Iraq in debris, Cairo in transition and Damascus in disarray, the Persian Gulf oligarchies are having a ball. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are forcing the pace of the AL’s intervention in Syria.
Not a week passes without an AL ‘initiative’. The last one was for an AL peacekeeping force. But AL has no army and Syrian rebels are a motley crowd and how do you work out a ceasefire? With whom? The Syrian regime then came to the AL’s rescue by asking it to get lost.
On Sunday, AL was back with a bang. After an acrimonious Foreign Minister level meeting in Cairo, Qatar and Saudi Arabia forced a resolution through which inter alia urges Arabs to “provide all kinds of political and material support” to the Syrian opposition. The slang is borrowed from the United States and Israel when they threaten Iran – ‘all options’. Simply put, Qataris and the Saudis now have the AL mandate legitimising their arming and inciting Syrian dissdents and various jihadi groups to kickstart a civil war in Syria.
Meanwhile, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia made a Kafkaesque speech, lamenting the state of the contemporary world which is bereft of brains, justice, morals and fairness. He was campaigning for the resolution coming up in the UN General Assembly which might be put to vote on Thursday, condemning the Syrian regime and asking for withdrawal of troops from civilian areas but making no demands on the opposition.
The UNGA resolution is not binding but it will nonetheless resonate on the world stage. The intention behind the resolution is to debunk the move by the Syrian authorities to hold a referendum on a new constitution that provides for wide-ranging reforms including multi-party system, independent judiciary, etc.
The Saudis won’t be satisfied with anything short of regime change in Damascus. For Abdullah, this has become a personal crusade. The Saudis are moving in tandem with Turkey and the US. Turkish FM Ahmet Davutoglu who held 5 days of consultations in Washington, has ominously spoken of a “humanitarian initiative”. Hillary Clinton promised to “increase outreach to opposition both inside and outside of Syria.”
Davutoglu also met US defence secretary Leon Panetta, who praised Turkey for its stellar role as a NATO member country. The indications are that Davutoglu may have discussed with the US officials the possibility of establishing a so-called ‘buffer zone’ in the northern part of Syria bordering Turkey that includes Idlib and the regions surrounding the city.
Quite clearly, it is Libya all over again. A ‘Friends of Syria’ [FOS] grouping is being formed on the pattern of what the West and its Arab allies formed on Libya prior to the intervention. The first meeting of the FOS will take place next Tuesday in Tunisia, the birthplace of the ‘Arab Spring’.
Now comes the big question: After voting with the AL resolution in the UN Security Council, and after the hugely successful visit by Defence Minister A,K. Antony to Riyadh this week, will India join the FOS? It all depends on how the mandarins choose to define India’s ‘self-interests’ by next week after perusing Antony’s tour report.
From all accounts, King Abdullah made a special gesture receiving Antony immediately upon his arrival. He held out the offer of increased Saudi oil supplies for India. Never have the Saudis made such an overture to India. Abdullah is acting on American (and israeli) advice.
But what interests India more is that the Saudis are embarking on an enormous military expansion, and the prospects of securing a share of the green money. The Saudis are adding 125000 men to their 150000-strong army and another 125000 men to their 100000-strong National Guard; buying ships and sea-skimming missiles worth 30 billion dollars and buying another 500 planes to the air force, besides boosting the police force by 60000 men.
They want help to train their men to behave like soldiers; the want to ‘exercise’ their navy and maintain and service their high-tech equipments, build army barracks and logistics and of course teach the security personnel the tricky art of curbing mob violence in the rebellious Shi’ite-dominated eastern provinces, where a popular unrest is building up. India fervently hopes that it has a role to play, as the setting up of the joint defence group suggests.
Now, all this Saudi mobilisation is in addition to the “instant deterrent” they can command “in the form of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal that the Saudis are widely believed to have helped finance” — this according to none other than the terribly well-informed David Ignatius of WaPo.
To my mind, the Saudis have worked out a tidy division of labour here — subcontracting to the Indians and Pakistanis alike so that both are kept happy and will sing the Saudi song on Syria.
Indian can help train the Saudi soldiers who will fight wars in the Shi’te dominated eastern provinces of their country or in next-door Bahrain and Yemen, but all the time under the guarantee of a Pakistani nuclear umbrella. Howzaat? To my mind, this could as well have been a joint visit to Riyadh by Antony and Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Kayani. Maybe, with A Q Khan as ‘expert’?
– February 16, 2012