Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Saudis have set off a time bomb in India too

Saudi Arabia and its cohorts breaking off diplomatic ties with Iran is pure madness and has slid the Middle East closer to a devastating war.

The two countries lead the Sunni, Shia camps in Middle East and presently are waging proxy wars in Yemen and Syria. Lost in the news was the terrible Saudi decision to call off the cease-fire in Yemen. The gloves are truly off.

It delivers a devastating blow to the Syrian peace talks in Vienna where Saudis and Iranians are to sit on the same table on January 25.  Lately there’s been hope that Syrian peace talks were closer to fruition.

The Saudi action is unlikely to exacerbate Shia-Sunni largely peaceful coexistence in India. Shias number 40 out of 175 million Muslims in India. But Saudi-supported Islamic State (IS) is another matter. Recent report states that as many as 30,000 Indian Shias want to go to Middle East and fight IS or Sunni forces. This is a potential audience for Iran. Those in opposition could flock to Saudi camp.

The year 2016 couldn’t have begun on more stupid, insane manner after Saudi Arabia went ahead and executed Shiite cleric Nimr Baq al-Nimr despite repeated warnings from the Iranian quarters. Then Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran was attacked by protestors who smashed windows and furniture and then set the embassy on fire. Iran was quick to arrest demonstrators and pledged to deter future attacks. Saudi Arabia would’ve none of it.

It usually is the pattern between the two that each provocation is met with escalated provocation from the other side. Now the two sworn enemies apparently have decided to take matters in their own hands and go against the restraining voices of United States and Russia in the background.

United States has been quick to urge restraint and Russia has offered to play peace-broker between the two but so far there has been little response from these two Middle East heavyweights. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also made phone calls to two camps.

Critics doubt that Saudi Arabia could’ve executed the revered cleric without consultation with United States; or that it could’ve broken off the diplomatic relations with Iran without conferring with the superpower.

There are more chances though that Saudi Arabia, by its present act, wants to tell United States to make a choice between them and Iran with whom it’s been trying to mend fence lately, including the peace deal of last year.

Saudis have cut all commercial relations and air travel between the two countries which would affect Iranian pilgrims visit to Mecca; and of the Saudi Arabian Shiites to visit Iranian shrines.

It is also bad news for oil-rich region where 20 percent of world’s oil traverses every day. The plunge in market showed the concerns. Saudis have been deeply hurt economically by falling oil prices and the anti-Shia plank is their best bet to keep the House of Sauds in power. Newsbred has recently highlighted the collapsing rule of Sauds.

Not to speak for already-marginalized Shias in Saudi Arabia who constitute 15 percent of the country’s population and largely reside in country’e eastern province from where, incidentally, Nimr al-Nirm belonged. Saudi Arabia’s act could’ve also been intended to increase sectarian conflict in the country.

It would surely worsen the situation in Iraq where Shias are in majority and where the minority Sunnis expanded their frustration with the creation of Islamic State (IS). It’s certainly a boost to IS in terms of recruitments.

Lesser forces such as Bahrain and Sudan have joined Saudis and United Arab Emirates have downgraded their diplomatic relations with Tehran, recalling its ambassador.  Turkey and Qatar have so far kept their counsel but could soon show their hands.

In any case, there are chances that Saudi-Turkey support for Islamic State (IS) would only grow brazen in coming weeks. The quagmire of Middl East is getting worse and that’s a bad news in general for world at large.

The Shia-Sunni divide has been there since the seventh century but it has got nothing to do with today’s violence. The two  sects have coexisted for most of Middle East’ history.

The traces of present rupture could be put at the door of US through its 2003 Iraq invasion. Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein was hostile to both Riyadh and Tehran and his remove left Iraq in a vacuum where both Saudi Arabia and Iraq tried to increase their influence. The subsequent conflicts in Syria, and to a lesser extent in Libya and Yemen, have exacerbated the sectarian relations.

Going further back, the relations between the two soured in 1979 when Iran turned into a Shia theocracy. Iranians were seen as a threat to promote such a revolution in other parts of Middle East.

Saudis understand that Sunnis number more in Middle East. By polarizing the region, they want to bring all Sunnis under their banner and keep the House of Saud going.

All this has happened in the last 15 years; in the new millennium. History, if it survives, will judge United States very badly for its invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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