By Shahzad Masood Roomi

Though the contours of recently formed 34-nation strong military alliance by Saudi Arabia are not clear so far, but the way it has been announced and the way US and UK are reacting on it is something which raises some critical questions:

  1. What will be the mandate of this alliance as far as territorial integrity of member states is concerned?
  2. What will be the formula of sharing the troops in its operations?
  3. How the alliance members would decide to conduct an operation or not if there is a dead lock between the member states?
  4. Who will bear the expenses of operations of this alliance?
  5. Why this alliance has a clear sectarian overtone in its formation? Why Iran and Syria are not part of it?
  6. How this alliance would overcome the impression of being a Sunni alliance especially in Iran and Syria?
  7. Which terrorist outfits apart from ISIS this alliance has identified as threat and with what criteria?
  8. How can Saudi Arabia unilaterally include or exclude countries in this alliance? Was Saudi monarchy given this mandate by the rest of the Muslim World?
  9. Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, said the coalition would share intelligence and deploy troops if necessary. If that is the case, why there was no meeting of all military or intelligence chiefs from member states? How this understanding was reached (if there is an understanding at all)?
  10. The way US and UK have welcomed the announcement of this alliance, it implies that now ‘troops on ground’, in Syria, would be from Muslim nations. Who they will be fighting against and under what mandate?

These questions are critical. Each and every one of them and needs to be answered honestly and urgently. This requires an in-depth analysis of this Saudi idea of forming a Sunni military alliance and possible strategic repercussions it can have for Muslim World and for Saudi Arabia itself.


Saudi Foreign minister, while talking to media in Paris, also sighted “the threat of terrorism and state failure on the rise, and a growing leadership vacuum in the Arab and Islamic world” as primary drivers behind Riyadh’s announcement of this military alliance. Question remains, if Riyadh is so concerned about these things within Muslim world, why no initiative has been taken by the Saudi government to form a body to seek the root causes of these threats and to contemplate strategies to mitigate the threats by developing long term solutions instead of trying to play leader by an attempt to “institutionalizing cooperation in combatting terrorism”?

As it is evident that there are too many questions which need to be addressed and answered else this military alliance would fail even before its very first operation. Furthermore, the impression that Saudis are forming this military alliance on the behest of US and the West must be eradicated through transparent announcement of scope, goal and rationale of this alliance.

Ironically, Pakistan has announced to be part of this alliance but at the same time has also said that the quantum of its participation will be determined later on when more details about the objectives of this alliance would be available. Clearly, by blindly accepting to be part of this military alliance, Pakistan has made a desperate attempt to not to disturb Saudis this time like it did on Yemen issue.

But question remains is it a wise strategy? Not at all!

Pakistan is venturing into a military alliance whose actions in Middle East could have serious sectarian backlash at home and then there is our own precarious security profile which already presents a bleak law and order and security situation where the state is struggling to grapple with its own internal and external security challenges. With a restive Afghan border in the west, a belligerent India on the East, Baloch insurgency in the southwest and urban law and order break down in Karachi in the South, it is very difficult to fathom that how Pakistan will manage to help this military alliance, expect intelligence and knowledge sharing.

Strangely enough, UN is not even concerned and this leads to a bigger question that why an issue like terrorism is not being debated at the global forum like UN? There is no definition of terrorism. There is no consensus over the root causes of global terrorism. There is no classification about types of terrorism (like state-terrorism, Non-state actor-terrorism, financial-terrorism etc.) so that, in order to find its solution, policymakers and academics can understand what lies within these definitions and categorization. It is my firm belief that unless and until this debate is not initiated in the UN, global terrorism will prevail. Muslim world is the most affected part by terrorism and yet the silence and inaction within Muslim comity of nations on taking the issue of global terrorism to the UN is complete and total. Completely ironic!

And then there is an equally important question of terrorists’ ideology which is not being addressed or even debated anywhere in the world not even within the Muslim World. And among other factors, this is yet another reason why this military alliance by Saudi Arabia is not a very good idea to combat ISIS. What Saudi strategic community (if there is one) is not realizing is that in modern incarnation of warfare (4th and 5th generation warfare) the ‘narrative’ is the ultimate weapon which lies at the heart of any effective response strategy against organizations like ISIS who harvest its power from distortion and misinterpretation of the Islamic political ideals like Caliphate. But it seems that even after witnessing the failure of military-oriented strategies of the US and West in the Middle East, Saudi intelligentsia is advising for a similar military-oriented response strategy.

The Guardian’s Middle East editor, Ian Black has quoted Mustafa Alani of the Gulf Research Center, which often reflects thinking in Riyadh, saying, “The Saudis feel they are under attack from the media suggesting they are responsible for Daesh (Isis). They felt a need to answer this not by counter propaganda but by a realistic project.”

“The nature of terrorism is changing. It is not only hit-and-run. It is not only suicide bombings. Its objective now is state-building. If you want to fight Daesh in Iraq you can’t send police or security people. You need to send real military forces.”

If Gulf Research Center is really that influential as being claimed by Ian Black, then it is evident that major flaw is within Saudi strategic community who is not addressing the core issue of ideology and propaganda but is suggesting a more kinetic approach to handle terrorism; a failed strategy to start with!

Actually this military alliance is an attempt by Saudi Arabia to position itself in the Middle East as a leader against growing influence of Iran and to dispel the impression that Saudis have a role in rise of ISIS. If Saudis will try to achieve these geopolitical goals through this military alliance it is again a plan destined to be doomed sooner than later. Saudis should have learned from Russia how to deploy the media to counter the propaganda and present their own narrative across the globe. There is no scarcity of resources to Saudi government. But it seems that Saudis are more interested in power display to both Iran and to strengthen its authority among ‘Sunni Muslim states’ after it is diminishing within ‘Muslim World’.

Last but not the least, if at any point in near future, this alliance decides to send forces to Syria there would always be a high probability that the entire Muslim world will indulge into a grand sectarian war where Iran, Syria, Iraq will be on one side and this Saudi military alliance on the other. Zionist forces will be more than happy to push the regional scenario in that direction as well because this will make their plans to redraw the map of Middle East much easier.

These are distressing times for Muslims. There is a complete and total collapse of leadership in Ummah due to which it is heading towards an implosion which will only result in formation of many smaller and weak countries based on ethnic, sectarian and linguistic divide and a very powerful Israel!

It is a very realistic near future scenario for the entire Muslim World; Pakistan must initiate aggressive military-diplomacy in order to warn Riyadh about its dangerous miscalculations on strategic issues. So far, Pakistan has done well by not saying a straight ‘No’ to Saudis in order to prevent a more aggressive response from Arab world like we saw from Abu Dubai after Pakistan refused to send troops to Yemen. But there is no way that Pakistan can afford to let Riyadh go with this self-destruct strategy of forming a Sunni only military-alliance to counter Iran under the pretext of fighting terrorism. This is a dangerous trap set for the every noticeable Muslim nation. Time to act is now!