‘The Dynamics of Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and US Relations’: A Talk by Javed Jabbar

No crisis today remains regional. There is no such thing as isolated or insulated regions … watch video

The fragmentation of the Middle East into a collection of interest groups has become a defining feature of the region’s political economy. “Palestine is essentially an Arab country, and must remain so,” was the uncompromising response given by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947 to requests made by Albert Einstein, at the behest of Zionist leaders, to support the creation of the state of Israel. Seven decades later the atmosphere is rather different and Modi has comprehensively cemented ties with Israel by becoming the first Indian prime minister to make an official visit to Israel, a premier supplier of arms and military technology to New Delhi. The passage of seventy years has resulted in the rise of new power brokers such as the Saudis who are accused of being the primary supporters of state sponsored terrorism in an official report, the publication of which is deliberately being withheld by the British government as it does not want to damage booming arms sales to Riyadh: bombs used to kill innocent civilians in Yemen. All this squares up poorly with Trump’s claim that Iran is the foremost pariah state.

The ongoing ostracism of Qatar shows that the Saudis want to call the shots on everything on their terms. In a session chaired by Dr Masuma Hasan, Javed Jabbar gave an insightful talk on the mechanics underpinning Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia’s relations with the US. The event was widely reported in the media and extracts of the reportage are available below. Jabbar bemoaned Saudi hegemony and recalled that the 13 sweeping demands that Saudi Arabia had made of Qatar sounded frightfully similar to a power point presentation conjured up by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company – a favourite of King Salman bin Abdulaziz. According to Jabbar, one cannot ignore the fact that only six years ago, Saudi Arabia and Qatar jointly invested in an Israeli company called IDA Holdings.

Defining a New Era in International Relations in Newsline (Ali Bhutto)

Senator (R) Javed Jabbar, a member of the Senate Forum for Policy Research, led a round table discussion titled ‘The Dynamics of Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and US Relations,’ at the library of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA), on July 13, 2017. Mediated by the Chairperson of the PIIA and former cabinet secretary, Dr Masuma Hassan, the discussion was attended by academics, journalists and members of civil society, including historian and Pakistan Studies professor Dr Muhammed Reza Kazimi, President of the Oxford and Cambridge Society Tariq Jafar, and a delegation of the Pakistan Air Force led by Air Vice Marshal Abrar Ahmed.

During the round table discussion, Jabbar pointed out that the Qatar crisis demonstrated a new reality that was emerging in international relations: that regional pacts could no longer serve as harbingers of regional stability. He cited Brexit and SAARC as examples, arguing that SAARC (established in 1986) had failed as a conflict resolution mechanism. The root cause of this failure was the fact that it was marked by asymmetry. “Can a regional pact be stable,” asked Jabbar, “if it contains asymmetry?”

The Qatar crisis began, “like a bolt from the blue,” recalled Jabbar, when on June 5, 2017, four Arab nations – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt – decided to cut ties with Qatar on the grounds that it was supporting terrorist groups and maintaining diplomatic ties with Iran. Apart from Egypt, all of the above mentioned countries, including Qatar, are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Jabbar said that Iran’s decision to expand its ties with Qatar in such a scenario demonstrated a maturity that was admirable.

According to Jabbar, the crisis was not a regional one, but a global issue that involved the Great Powers, such as the US and Russia, since one-fifth of the world’s oil came from the gulf. He argued that there was no such thing as an insulated region. Referring to the illusion of unipolarity in the global arena, Jabbar said that the Qatar crisis illustrated how power had become diffused and had redefined itself. The US, he argued, may be the dominant global power in conventional military terms, but after the longest military campaign in their history – in Afghanistan – it was clear that they had gotten nowhere. Jabbar cited that $800 billion had been wasted in the war in Afghanistan.

The framework of this new phase of human history, he argued, would be shaped by “composite power” – military power, economic power, political power and, most importantly, the participation of the people. Factors such as technology, geo-politics and communication had begun to determine how states related to each other. The media – whether it was social media, print media or electronic media ­– was an inherent factor of inter-state relations. Although the media always portrayed itself as a messenger of sorts, this was a myth, argued Jabbar. “We are approaching a point in history where scholars will redefine the framework of international relations,” he predicted.

According to Jabbar, the 13 sweeping demands that Saudi Arabia had made of Qatar sounded frightfully similar to a power point presentation conjured up by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company – a favourite of King Salman bin Abdulaziz. Jabbar explained that one could not ignore the fact that only six years ago, Saudi Arabia and Qatar jointly invested in an Israeli company called IDA Holdings. Saudi Arabia’s insecurity, he argued, was evident in the fact that it devoted 10 per cent of its GDP to military spending – an amount high even by US and Russian standards. Jabbar also pointed out that the Qatar conundrum would enable the arms bazaar to thrive.

On a more positive note, he said that efforts attempting to resolve the crisis were visible. Saudi Arabia would back down, but only in phases, and shades of these were already evident. After the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson met with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, there appeared to be a de-escalation in rhetoric. The US could not afford to give up its Al-Udeid air base in Qatar, from where it carried out excursions to Syria and Iraq. Therefore, it had a vested interest in Qatar and would ensure that no harm was brought upon the country. The theoretical threat to its frontiers was neutralised by the presence of US bases. According to Jabbar, the economy of Qatar was fairly stable, partly because it had such a small population but also because it had a huge sovereign fund. The Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, he said, was tantamount to psychological warfare and theatrics. However, he pointed out, there was internal discontent in Qatar, over the disparity of wealth.

Referring to The Allure of Battle, by historian Cathal Nolan (OUP, 2017), Jabbar explained that the book analysed how civilian and military leaderships often mistook victory in battle to be the actual outcome of conflicts. Outcomes of conflicts, he said, cannot be foreseen, as they had wide-ranging effects.

In response to a question from the audience on the “real” reasons why Saudi Arabia was attempting to isolate Qatar, Jabbar stated that while one instinctively tended to sympathise with Qatar, the country was no angel. Qatar had been punching above its weight for a long time. Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera Arabic focused little on domestic problems, he revealed. It had been broadcasting content that condemned the Jews as a people – and not Israel or Zionism. It promoted extreme anti-Jewish statements and glorified messages coming from extremist elements, explained Jabbar.

Responding to a question on whether the discovery of shale oil in the US would change the scenario of global oil dependency, Jabbar said that the US was already fairly self-reliant and did not critically depend on oil supplies from the Gulf. The US deliberately did not reveal its quantity of shale oil reserves. As such, shale oil will not have a direct strategic impact, although it may effect oil prices.

Refering to the library of the PIIA – where the event was held – Jabbar reminisced about the days when he visited the centre as a University of Karachi student in 1963. He praised the PIIA as Pakistan’s first think tank of international affairs and a trend-setting institution. It was, he said, “an island of treasure, in a sea of commerce.”

Pakistan’s mediation in Gulf crisis can prove fruitful’ in The News International (Anil Datta)

Pakistan has a record of successful, result-oriented mediation in many a crisis in the past and it would be worth the while if it takes up mediation in the current Gulf imbroglio in a democratic and humanitarian way.

The suggestion was made by former federal information minister and noted intellectual Javed Jabbar while addressing members of the PIIA, the media, and the intellectual elite of the city, at the PIIA auditorium the other day. His lecture was titled, ‘The dynamics of Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and US relations’.

He said that Pakistan’s position among Islamic states could be gauged from the fact that the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference) had thrown its weight behind Pakistan and unequivocally condemned Indian atrocities in India-Held Kashmir (IHK).

He said that the humanitarian mediation was essential as, God forbid, were there to be an armed confrontation there would have been a purposeless loss of human lives and overall destruction.

Analysing the situation in detail, he said that there were six monarchies with sharply contrasting political systems. There, he said, lay internal disparity. Kuwait, he said, was a state where certain sections of the people did not have the right to vote, while there was unemployment in Bahrain.

Most of the states, of late had begun to grapple with the crisis of inadequate housing. There were curbs on political activity, and 88 percent of the UAE’s combined GDP hinged on just around two fiefdoms, Jabbar added.

He was sceptical of regional pacts and quoted the example of Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation). He said that India was the biggest member of Saarc and thus, there was lack of equality which hindered smooth running of the pact.

Similarly, he said, Saudi Arabia was the disproportionately largest member of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). He did, however, acknowledge that Saarc had done some good work too.

Besides, he said that the concept of unipolarity was misleading; it was more of an illusion. In this context, he cited the example of the USA and said that while all this talk of the US being the sole superpower had been going on, it could still not achieve a decisive victory in Afghanistan. They had been more or less bogged down and he said:

This goes to show how diffused power actually is …

“Disproportionate distribution of resources causes instability,” he said, adding, that such a crisis also engulfs non-regional powers. The present crisis which started around June 5, involves just not the Gulf but Africa, Asia, and Europe too.

Talking about the economic prosperity of the GCC countries, he said that a fifth of the world’s oil came from these countries as did a fifth of the world’s crude oil and gas. In reply to a question, he said that while the discovery of large quantities of shale oil in the US could certainly act as a bargaining chip in the pricing mechanism, it, for the foreseeable future could not affect the demand for these commodities.

He said that it was for the big powers to see an end to this imbroglio as Qatar was the largest investor in the US and the UK. Jabbar also pointed out the recent presentation of Saudi Arabia’s highest civil award to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As for Iran, he said that Iran had displayed incredible maturity during the whole crisis.

What made the function more or less unusual was the presence of high-ranking officers of the Pakistan Air Force. One of them put forth a very apt query. He asked whether the present crisis was just a ploy crafted by the US and Saudi Arabia to isolate Iran.

Towards the end, Jabbar said:

I don’t find anyway whereby there would be an outright invasion of Qatar … History teaches us that religion has never been known to be a driver behind the formation of geo-strategic alliances.

‘Saudi Arabia’s military spending signifies insecurity’ in Dawn (Shazia Hasan)

The dynamics of relations between Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the US were in focus during a talk by former senator and federal minister Javed Jabbar at the PIIA  here on Thursday.

Getting to the root of the matter, he reminded the audience that one-fifth of the world’s oil and one-third of all proven crude oil reserves were in the Gulf region.

The political development five weeks ago when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar, he said, actually involved more states than just these five countries.

No crisis today remains regional, says Javed Jabbar

Mentioning the ultimatum issued to Qatar to face the consequences unless they carry out a list of demands such as curbing ties with Iran, staying away from ‘terrorism’, shutting down their news channel Al Jazeera, terminating the Turkish military presence in Qatar, consenting to monthly audits, etc, Mr Jabbar wondered how Qatar could agree to such things, especially the last demand mentioned, which would make Qatar look more like a department than a country.

He said the issue of cutting ties with Qatar would spread to Asia, Africa and even Europe and America and remarked:

No crisis today remains regional. There is no such thing as isolated or insulated regions.

He said there were several themes that could come out of this development, one of which was regional pacts. “And if one country in a pact of several countries is larger than the others it gets to have a bigger say in matters,” he said.

For military spending, he said, Saudi Arabia reserved 10 per cent of its GDP which was even more than the defence share of the US, Russia, China and India.

“It also signifies insecurity,” Mr Jabbar said, adding that Saudi Arabia and Qatar earlier jointly invested in a hedge fund with Israeli links. The US too had military presence in some 140 countries across the world. The US president, meanwhile, was busy cutting State Department budgets to increase its defence budget, he explained.

Meanwhile, he said that Iran was showing a lot of maturity in the matter of cutting ties with Qatar while there was scope for Pakistan on the diplomacy front, too, especially in the UN council. He said Qatar’s economy was fairly stable. The US and the UK also had a lot of Qatari investments in their country, he added.

Having said that, Mr Jabbar argued that Qatar was not entirely innocent as it had been throwing around its weight for some time. Adding that it also contributed to hostile propaganda against the Jews instead of Israel and Zionism, he quite rightly opined that:

Al Jazeera doesn’t report on domestic issues, as it has its eye on international developments …

Posted by Editor

As explained in an earlier post, in November 2017, PIIA will be hosting some special events in relation to our Seventieth Anniversary. Coverage of our recent events can be found via the links below:

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Filed under Discussion, Events, Human Rights, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Palestine, The Middle East, Trump, UK, United States

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