Rajan Grover. Editorial.VI.IX.XVII
By Rajan Grover
The Middle East continues to face the curse of regional split. If the Sunni-Shia rivalry was not enough, this time it seems to be an intra Sunni divide. Last week, in a surprise move, the Gulf cooperation council led by Saudi Arabia severed the diplomatic ties with its important member Qatar accusing it for helping and promoting terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al Qaida! By giving only 48 hours to call back their diplomatic staff and just 14 days to exchange their nationals, most members of the council have also snapped their road, air and sea links with it. This was near catastrophic for Qatar that has been subjected to almost being in a siege.
Most diplomacy commentators see it as an after-effect of Donald Trump’s visit to the House of Saud on the occasion of launching Islamic Military Allaince (IMA) to fight against terrorism. The aims and objectives of this alliance were in doubt right from the start as this military alliance didn’t include all the important Muslim countries like Iran and also ignored the terrorism affected countries like Afghanistan and Syria. With the call of Donald Trump to Isolate Iran and all the present countries joining the chorus of Iran bashing, the worst fears came true that the so called `Islamic Alliance’ is in fact Sunni military alliance directed against Iran.
Qatar was formed in early 1970’s. It is a very small Peninsula having its only land border with Saudi Arabia. The country has a small population of about 3 million and it keeps a modest military of about 10-20,000. Qatar occupies a unique position in the gulf countries due to the following reasons:
1. It is the powerhouse of the Liquified Natural Gas fulfilling the 33% of LNG demand worldwide.
2. The terrain of country is such that extraction of LNG cost is minimum. This helps it to sell the gas at very competitive prices at world market, making it the richest country of the world in terms of per capita income.
3. Al-Jazeera:The name of this mega media house is enough to know about the soft power enjoyed by Qatar throughout the world. Inspite of the best efforts, the other neighboring countries failed to create the magic and the dedicated following of viewers as Al-Jazeera network has done.
Apart from this, Qatar hosts the forward bases of America’s central military command and it has been an important ally of the US. These are the sufficient reasons for the jealousy among the Saudi Arabia led countries of the region who are falling on each other to get the more attention and favour from the USA by projecting themselves more loyal to it than the others.
The tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar though seem to be a sudden development, have been brewing for quite some time. But the escalation has come fast and quickly. Encouraged by its economical and political profile at world stage, Qatar had started its own independent policies as a nation. It had supported almost all the rebellion forces in Arab Spring of 2011. It supported Muslim Brotherhood against Husni Mubarak in Egypt and the other rebels in the region. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, like the other monarchies of the region, didn’t like this. Obviously, it wanted the status-quo to prevail which would help to sustain its own kingdom.
Since Qatar and Iran are partners in extracting the LNG, both have interlinked economic interests. The support to Hamas against Israel by Qatar also didn’t go well with the Saudis, who have been very suspicious of Hamas. But the immediate trigger was to publicly denounce the stance of Islamic Military Alliance by Qatar, against Iran. Iran and Saudi Arabia have been rivals since long for providing the ideological, political and diplomatic leadership to the Muslim world .But the Crown Prince Mohammad of Saudi Arabia has shown special interest and aggression for this cause. The present stand-off must be seen as its ploy to tighten its grip in the region. Perhaps it is a unfolding of a pre-conceived plan to force a regime change in Qatar and fine tune the secret understanding between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Of late, there has been a concurrence of regional interests of the two countries w.r.t. Syria and Iran.
So it was Qatar’s tilt towards Iran / Russia and its deviation from the Arab line towards their perceived adversaries ,which cost it the present situation. Clearly, the cracks in the Islamic Military Alliance are more visible than before.
There have been speculations about the possible hacking of some secret material by Russian or other hackers, related with Qatar’s foreign department. In today’s complex and hybrid battlefields such cyber attacks are very common to create a confusion and wedge between the countries. It has again brought the issue of cyber security of nation in sharp focus.
About 65% of India’s LNG demand is fulfilled by Qatar. We have huge business, economic and strategic interests with Qatar. The silence of our MEA on this issue is highly puzzling. It could have educated the people about the issue and its repercussions in this region. Perhaps, we are assured of the supply of LNG through the Strait of Hormuz. In any case, it would be in India’s best interests to remain neutral in this face off. This development has also a message for countries like Pakistan who heavily rely upon generous aids and donations from Saudi Arabia that it will be very difficult for them to come out of the tight embrace of Saudi Arabia.
However, if the conflict prolongs, there is a risk of rise in petrol prices which may play havoc with the emerging economies like India. Hope this issue is resolved at the earliest and peace prevails in the region at large.
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