Russia is fast emerging as a major power broker in the Middle East.
The world reeled from shock after two successive missile attacks targeted the Abqaiq oil facility and the Khurais oilfield in the Saudi desert last month. The real drama unfolded the morning after – thick smoke billowed from the wreckage, blotting out the early morning sun, and with it perhaps any hopes of restoring some amount of normality to Iranian-Saudi relations, at least for the foreseeable future. Over half of all the crude oil excavated in the Saudi kingdom is processed at Abqaiq. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that crude oil prices surged by 20 percent as global markets grappled with the biggest oil supply shock in decades. The Kingdom’s oil production is already running a historic low as its natural reserves face depletion, and the attacks at Abqaiq and Khurais managed to cut down global oil supply by a further 6 percent. Saudi Arabia called the September 14 attacks an act of war, and Iran stands accused of masterminding the offensive, a charge it vehemently denies.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned what he called Saudi attempts to provoke Iran into a full-blown military confrontation. The country remains economically besieged; heavily sanctioned by the US, with inflation in the country hitting new highs every week under the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy. Zarif holds the Houthi rebels responsible for the attack, based on a statement released by the rebel faction in Yemen. Nonetheless, Tehran has not been able to produce any concrete evidence apropos of the claim. The Saudis, meanwhile, have alleged Iranian involvement after examining misfired missiles that they claim were sourced from Iran. Less than a month after the attacks on the Aramco facilities, an Iranian oil tanker, the Sabiti, was attacked while cruising the Red Sea, just off the coast of Jeddah, causing oil prices in London to surge to 60 US dollars a barrel. Continue reading
The turning point was when the Houthis took control of Sanaa, the capital in 2014 and from there they started to expand to the west and east of Yemen.
In order to fully understand the current state of Yemen, it is important that we zoom into history and try analyzing what went wrong and where. For much of the past century, the country has been divided into The Yemen Arab Republic in the north and People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in the south. Ottoman and British rule managed to keep the two separated but in 1990 these were unified under one flag and this was the beginning of crisis. If we look at the cultural and political divisions, these two parts are way different in two aspects. For almost a thousand years, the north had been under the theocratic rule of the Zaidi Shiites (the Zaidi sect of Islam is almost wholly present in Yemen and they believe that Muslims should only be ruled by the Imams – those who are the descendants to the Prophet), as opposed to this, the south was transformed from a scratch by the British during their rule. These differences took a conflicting turn after the two were united in 1990.
Looking at the religious division more closely the Zaidi Shiites predominate the north, with a minority Ismaili sect, whereas, the Sunni sect of Islam dominates elsewhere. Sectarianism was not really a problem until recently. Previously, a more tolerant society prevailed. Indeed, various exchanges between the two communities had been observed and inter-community marriages were normal and considered a routine in Yemen. However, the rise of political Islam led to an upsurge of tensions and with the emergence of radicalism, groups like Muslim Brotherhood and Zaidi Houthis emerged and expanded. With the spread of Salafi ideology in the predominant Zaidi areas, the expansion of Houthis was needed. Initially Houthis emerged as a theological revivalist movement in 2004 fearing the spread of Salafi ideology in the dominant Shiite areas.
Pakistan’s position in this dilemma is unique; it enjoys ties with Qatar, as well as with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
On 22 June 2019, Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani arrived in Pakistan on the invitation of Prime Minister Imran Khan for a two-day state visit. The state visit was specifically aimed at strengthening bilateral ties and improving cooperation in diverse fields between Qatar and Pakistan. In addition to the one-on-one talks between the Emir, Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Arif Alvi respectively, delegation-level meetings were also conducted between representatives of both countries. Notably, one of the most important results of this visit was the subsequent pledge for mutual cooperation with regard to gas exploration and the energy sector. The sheer competitiveness of the energy market is a stark reality. In a bid to secure a pivotal multi-billion-dollar supply contract, the Qataris reduced prices of liquefied natural gas (LNG) for Pakistan in May 2019.
With Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates both offering enticing offers concerning deferred oil and LNG payments for Pakistan, Qatar sought to modify LNG prices in order to successfully secure the deal. It is reported that presently, Qatar exports ‘500 mmcfd [million cubic feet per day] to Pakistan under a 15-year agreement struck at 13.37% of Brent crude price.’[i] Pakistan has been negotiating with a number of countries including Russia, Turkey, Malaysia, Azerbaijan and Italy with regard to attaining long-term gas deals. Saudi Arabia (and state-owned petroleum and natural gas company Aramco) has also shown interest in securing a gas deal with Pakistan. Continue reading
Israel does not want to see Assad go because he never posed a threat to Israel. So the Americans are happy; and the crisis is not ending anytime soon says former Pakistan diplomat
The Syrian crisis is not going to end anytime soon. When it does end, it will not be to the liking of the West. This was said by former ambassador Karamatullah Khan Ghori in his lecture on ‘Endgame in the Middle East’ organised at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on Tuesday. Mr Ghori said to understand the subject, one needed to look at the genesis of the game. It was in 1908 when oil was discovered in the Middle East for the first time at a place called Masjid-i-Suleiman in Iran. Five years later, it was discovered in Iraq, a year later in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia was the last country tapped by the oil explorers. Notably, the discovery of oil preceded the First World War. It also coincided with Western infatuation with Israel. Although the so-called Balfour Declaration was announced in 1917, the spadework for a Jewish homeland had started in the last decade of the 19th century when the Zionist International was founded in Switzerland. The two developments almost happened simultaneously.
For the last one hundred years, this has been the prime goal and two-edged weapon of the West against the Arab world: one, oil continues to be supplied to Western economies; two, Israel is not threatened. Mr Ghori said in 1973 the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) imposed its first oil embargo against the West, and its architect was Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal. That embargo gave birth to what is now known as the Kissinger doctrine. Henry Kissinger was the secretary of state in 1973. He said, “We cannot allow this blackmail of our economies to go unchallenged. If it is allowed to go unchallenged, it will choke our economies. Therefore, we should be prepared to land our troops on the oil producing fields of Arabia.” Mr Ghori said colonialism relied upon creating local surrogates, and in the global context, regional surrogates. The US, after WWII, created regional surrogates in the Arab world and the Persian side of the Gulf. Continue reading
It is very clear that state-building and strategic development is no more a priority for the Trump Administration.
After a nine-month-long military campaign and a resultant refugee crisis that has affected more than half a million people, Mosul, according to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, has finally been “liberated” from the hold of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). What is left behind, however, seems indifferentiable from the ancient, obliterated walls of Troy. This, the prime minister claims, is still a “great victory for all of Iraq and Iraqis”. For anyone remotely familiar with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, such claims are traumatizingly similar to those made by the United States of America following its, ‘success’ in the war. It seems as if the result of Iraq’s previous, ‘liberation’, whereby Saddam Hussein was hanged and then Iraq was left for dead — much like a beast disposes of a carcass after it is done clawing on its flesh— have been forgotten.
Here, it is important to note that the situation in Iraq after the war of 2003 was worse than the pre-war situation, with 70,000 people cumulatively losing their lives under Saddam Hussein but more than 100,000 Iraqis being killed only in 2013. Is it, then, not alarming that the, ‘successes’ of 2017 are strikingly similar to the, ‘successes’ of 2003? Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri — a former chairman of the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee, in his book, Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos presents a, ‘viscous cycle of perilous interventions’, where he proves that one military intervention for ‘liberation’ is usually cause for a subsequent military intervention, also for, ‘liberation’. Continue reading
‘The concept of the nation state is in turmoil’ … ‘Iran and Pakistan can reshape the region’ – Watch Video
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the events that unfolded in its aftermath transformed Iran from a “rogue” state once part of the so-called “Axis of Evil” to one which is now vastly influential in the volatile affairs of the region. The ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq and last summer’s JCPOA have meant that the once menacing image of frowning mullahs burning American, British and Israeli flags has now been replaced by Mohammad Javad Zarif’s famous “smile diplomacy”. The upshot is that the Iranians are no longer considered to be the pariahs of the international community that they once used to be. These days everyone is looking for economic opportunities in Iran and western businesses and banks are keen to interact with its vast markets which were disconnected from the mainstream world economy because of sanctions subsequent to the 1979 Revolution.
During his talk entitled Pakistan’s Place in Iran’s Strategic Thinking at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on 12 August 2016, Iran’s deputy foreign minister Dr Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour said that Iran has more than a dozen neighbours but he remained unequivocal in his stance that Pakistan was a special country in the eyes of the Iranians. Dr Sajjadpour argued that Pakistan and Iran’s destinies are inextricably linked and that the two large neighbouring countries need to work together to combat security problems in order to neutralise the threat posed by terrorism. Detailed media coverage of our event with the Iranian dignitary can found below (see our earlier posts on Iran here and here and see further coverage here. Continue reading
Filed under CPEC, Cyber Security, Discussion, Europe, Iran, ISIS, Islam, Pakistan, Pakistan Horizon, Palestine, PIIA, Politics, Sanctions, Syria, The Middle East
Everyone has strategic interests in Syria … Syria was enjoying a lifestyle like nowhere else in the Arab world. We were almost free …
Syria was once the underlying bedrock of Arab nationalism; it used to be a source of pride for Arab secularists. At least in Arab eyes, it was a bastion of resistance against Israeli tyranny and American imperialism. But these days the country that exerted such significant political and military clout in the bloody Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) is mortally wounded by its own apocalyptic war, nothing short of a Jihād. On 27 November 2015, the Syrian ambassador in Pakistan, HE Radwan Loutfi gave a talk entitled The Future of Syria in the historic library of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA). The astute diplomat was unforgiving in his denouncement of foreign interests plaguing the survival of his country. But eager to build unity among his fellow Syrians, he explained: “I am Sunni, but I will be the first to protect the shrine of Sayeda Zainab.” Urging world leaders against further warmongering, he called for an immediate ceasefire followed by a strong willed political process “that would leave only Syrians to discuss” and decide the future of their annihilated homeland.
Yet the diplomat explained that a ceasefire in Syria remained “impossible” until the terrorists were rooted out. He also accused Turkey of having trade links with ISIS. His talk comes against the backdrop of the terrorist attacks in Paris, killing 130 and wounding hundreds of others, and the downing of the Russian Metrojet airliner in Egypt causing 224 fatalities. Insofar as military action is concerned, these days an “ISIS first” mentality prevails because its extremists in Raqqa are the “head of the snake” and must, of course, be “crushed”. Despite the rhetoric constantly pouring out of London, Paris and Washington Continue reading
Filed under Discussion, Drones, Iran, ISIS, Karachi, Pakistan Horizon, Politics, Russia, Sanctions, Syria, The Arab Spring, The Middle East, United States