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Who will be targeted by new Saudi led coalition?

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News Analysis |

Amidst festering crises in the Middle East, the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) will formally be launched on Sunday when the Defence Ministers of the 41 members will meet in Riyadh.

The inaugural meeting of the Ministers of Defence Council will be held under the theme “Allied Against Terrorism.” IMCTC’s Secretary General, Lt General Abdulelah Al-Saleh said: “This meeting marks the official launch of the IMCTC’s operations at our center in Riyadh.”

Pakistan was part of the initial 34-member coalition but its role became pronounced when its decorated former Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif was made the commander of the IMCTC earlier this year.

Pakistan is walking on a tightrope. It has remained neutral in the rivalry. Besides, efforts have been made to mend fences with Iran.

This coalition that does not include Iran has often been termed as one that is meant to target Riyadh’s chief rival. Iran showed a great deal of distress when Pakistan joined the alliance. However, Pakistan has categorically said that it will not be a party to any fight against one country. The IMCTC will address the core areas of ideology, communications, counter-terrorist financing and military. The all-powerful and the force behind the coalition, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman will inaugurate the defense ministers meeting. Lt General Saleh will outline the coalition’s strategy.

Read more: Pakistan sends an Army Brigade to Saudi Arabia’s southern border..?

General Raheel Sharif, who is well known for turning the tables in Pakistan’s fight against terrorism, spoke about the IMCTC, a force that he will command. “The biggest challenge in the 21st Century, especially in the Muslim world, is confronting the dangerous phenomenon of terrorism.”

The four-star infantry general known for his bold leadership during his tenure as Pakistan’s Army Chief further added: “IMCTC encompasses an integrated approach to coordinate and unite on the four key domains of ideology, communications, counter-terrorism financing and military, in order to fight all forms of terrorism and extremism and to effectively join other international security and peace keeping efforts.”

However, with the situation in the Middle East becoming more fluid, the launch of the coalition has to be analyzed in the context of the growing Saudi-Iranian rivalries. Doubts about the coalition being anti-Iran were confirmed when President Trump urged all states to fight Tehran earlier this year while addressing the Riyadh Summit.

Amidst festering crises in the Middle East, the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) will formally be launched on Sunday when the Defence Ministers of the 41 members will meet in Riyadh.

Both countries are fighting proxy wars in various theaters in the Middle East, to include Yemen and now Lebanon. Riyadh and Tehran have ramped up their rivalry this month after the former accused Iran of being behind the Houthis’ missile attack in the capital city. Ties have further strained after the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri. Lebanon is dominated by the Iran-backed Hezbollah. According to observers, Lebanon is fast-becoming a new proxy war theater between the two countries.

Iran has warned the Kingdom against testing its might while expressing full support to Beirut. The question is that after Iran and its allies have announced the defeat of ISIS, what will the new coalition target now?

Read more: Saudi Arabia or Qatar: Pakistan’s search for neutrality in the Gulf…

It would be reasonable to say, the IMCTC, bolstered by Trump’s outspoken anti-Iran policy, is likely to hurt Tehran and its allies in the region. Setbacks in Iraq and Syria, coupled with Iran’s closer ties with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and its allies will try to bleed Iran in other theaters to include Lebanon. However, watchers are mindful that Iran’s web of proxies are well-entrenched and the country is well-positioned to take the Kingdom on.

Riyadh and Tehran have ramped up their rivalry this month after the former accused Iran of being behind the Houthis’ missile attack in the capital city.

Seemingly, Pakistan is walking on a tightrope. It has remained neutral in the rivalry. Besides, efforts have been made to mend fences with Iran; Army Chief General Bajwa’s recent visit to Tehran is a glaring manifestation. But how will Pakistan manage to maintain this delicate balancing act? The answer is important as the country has a tendency to immerse itself in sectarianism.  The situation in the Middle East has certainly put Pakistan in a catch-22 situation.


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