‘The Arab World in Turmoil’: A Talk by Ambassador Karamatullah Ghori

We have no problem with Iran. Besides, we share a long border and are culturally more akin to Iran than to Saudi Arabia.

The standoff in Yemen between the Saudis and Iranians shows that a high death toll and human suffering alone will stop neither side from trying to build up its influence in the region. In Syria, after a relentless war which has left countless innocent people dead, Iran’s influence is in the ascendency along with its old ally Russia. The fall of Ghouta confirms this point. It demonstrates the impotence of the West as a player in the Middle East. After Saddam’s fall in 2003, Iran quickly developed its importance in Iraq. Iran was also quick to protect its neighbour when ISIS took over large parts of Iraq in 2014. Interestingly, John Bolton, who has been made Trump’s national security advisor after general McMaster was cashiered, wants to destroy the Iranian regime and advocates its replacement by Maryam Rajavi’s Mojahedin-e Khalq organisation, whose members had been proscribed as terrorists in many western countries. Mohammed bin Salman, who has recently been on a charm offensive and has been rubbing shoulders with Theresa May and schmoozing with president Trump making billion dollar deals, is now on a mission to win over support in Iraq.

The Saudi crown prince, who is on a quest to remake the Middle East, also says that Riyadh also has strategic interests with Tel Aviv despite the ongoing slaughter of the Palestinians by the Israeli military machine. Anyhow, the Wahabi Saudi regime is extending a hand of friendship to disillusioned Shias in Iraq who do not wish to align their interests with Tehran. For example, Muqtada al-Sadr, the stern leader of the Saraya al-Salam met Mohammed bin Salman in Najaf last year. Najaf is a natural place for the Saudi-Iranian rivalry to pan out further, of course Tehran has much more experience than Riyadh on the ground in Najaf and Southern Iraq. In these interesting times Pakistan’s former ambassador Karamatullah Ghori delivered lecture on The Arab World on Turmoil on 31 March, 2018 at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA).

Ghori, who is retired and presently lives in Canada, served as Pakistan’s envoy in numerous Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq and Algeria. His talk was chaired by the PIIA chairman, Dr Masuma Hasan, who served as Pakistan’s ambassador in Vienna and also as cabinet secretary. Ghori began his hour-long lecture, which packed the PIIA’s historic library, by emphasising that the Middle East is the most sensitive part of the world. He said, Pakistan’s role in the Iran–Saudi Arabia imbroglio should just be that of a peacemaker and not an actively aligned party as the latter could boomerang on her interests. Talking about the Middle East situation in general, he said it was a particularly complicated affair and termed it an “enigma wrapped in a riddle”. The former envoy identified the Iran-Saudi conflict as the main bone of contention in the region. He said:

We have no problem with Iran. Besides, we share a long border and are culturally more akin to Iran than to Saudi Arabia. As for Saudi Arabia, it is a matter of economic expediency. There are 1.5 million Pakistani expatriates working in Saudi Arabia who remit hundreds of thousands back home, thus buttressing the foreign exchange reserves of the country. As such, it would be utter folly if we were to get involved in a military campaign. 

Important is also the Saudi fear of Iran becoming a nuclear power. He also highlighted the fact that, today, Saudi Arabia was one of the top clients for US weapons.

Speaking about the Iraq War, Ghori maintained that the plan to attack Iraq was based on a purely trumped up issue (the weapons of mass destruction) and was a design of the US Neocons who were looking to use Iraq and its oil wealth as a launching pad for total world domination. Talking about the Arab Spring, Ghori held that it didn’t result from just a lack of democracy, but also because of the absence of fundamental rights. He said that in a meeting with a Saudi envoy, Muhammad Al Faqih, the latter had said that nothing like the Arab Spring could ever occur as the Arab governments provided their citizens with all the basic necessities of life.

Ghori claimed to have countered the argument by quoting as an example the thousands of Arabs who went overseas and found the freedoms and fundamental rights taken for granted in western countries glaringly absent at home. Such realisations, he said, would certainly raise questions in their minds which could find an outlet in the form of discontent with their governments.

“That is precisely what happened,” according to Ghori, “It was the denial of fundamental rights that precipitated the Arab Spring.” Comparatively speaking, he said that people in Pakistan had all the freedoms, hence, there were no chances of an Arab Spring here.

The former ambassador also highlighted certain external dynamics shaping things in the Arab world; firstly, the fact that the Arab world was home to three-fourths of the world’s oil resources and, secondly, the presence of Israel. Ghori pointed out that Arthur Balfour, then serving as United Kingdom’s foreign secretary, could sense the role oil would play in the future of world politics, hence, he wrote the letter to Walter Rothschild that came to be known as the “Balfour Declaration”.

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Filed under Discussion, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Islam, Israel, Karachi, Pakistan, Pakistan Horizon, Palestine, Politics, The Arab Spring, The Middle East, Trump, United States

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