Yemen Conflict: Potential Economic Catalyst for Pak

The following article has been published in Daily Nation, dated 06th April 2015

(E-Paper (Print Edition)http://nation.com.pk/E-Paper/lahore/2015-04-06/page-9 )

(Onlinehttp://nation.com.pk/business/06-Apr-2015/yemen-conflict-potential-economic-catalyst-for-pak )

Yemen Conflict: Potential Economic Catalyst for Pak

Prof Dp

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

Strategic decisions by modern states are based on either some principles, agreements, vested national interests or a combination of the above mentioned. A confusion and lack of clarity often results in ruining of opportunities which could otherwise turnaround the situation of a nation. By now, you’d have most likely heard about the conflict in Yemen, a regional dominance affair portrayed as a Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict by the script writers of the new world order for their own vested interests. While a lot has been written on the Yemen conflict in the past few days, a focus on economic prospects of the potential decisions has been somewhat lacking. We’ll address it in this write-up.

Pakistan currently has a vital economic dependency on Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) led Gulf coalition. The aid provide during sanctions and the $ 1.5 billion “gift” to Pakistan during current Government just last year maybe one-offs but the continuous provision of oil on “deferred payment” and employment opportunities for millions of Pakistanis in KSA and the Gulf region are of a permanent nature helping sustain Pakistan’s economy. Similarly, Pakistan share important economic ties with United Arab Emirate (UAE) whose companies often invest in Pakistan, albeit of extremely favorable terms in semi-Government or Government owned enterprises. Furthermore Pakistan has recently executed an agreement to import LNG from Qatar to meet its energy needs. The Gulf region is amongst major export destinations of Pakistani products. Annual bilateral trade is in billions of $. In economic terms there is an unfavorable trade imbalance in the trade ties mainly due to the import of oil by Pakistan. Furthermore, there is a convergence on security interests between Pakistan and most of the Gulf countries baring the issues with UAE regarding conflict of interests re Gawadar port as outlined below.

On the other hand, while there are just a few thousands Pakistani employed in Iran (fifteen to twenty thousands), the strategic position of it being a neighbor of Pakistan has serious implications for nation defence and thereby resultant impact on defence spending and national budget. While the past has glorious examples of Pak-Iran collaboration particularly during the 1965 war with India, it is an unfortunate fact that due to the non-convergence of economic and regional security interests, Iran has lately been in partnership with Pakistan’s arch rival India. The process exacerbated due to the divergence of interests in Afghanistan and peaked with the launch of the Gawadar project which directly threatened Iran’s vital “Chahbahar” port just like it threatened the prospects of UAE ports more importantly Dubai. The result has been direct economic costs for Pakistan due to delays in making port operational due to law and order situation supported by foreign interests as well as increased defence spending further straining the national resources.

Keeping in view of the above, perhaps it is high time that the strategic decision makers in Pakistan list the vital national interests that can be secured from both KSA led Gulf region as well as Iran as well as to what extent it can offer its co-operation in return depending on existing agreements. It is vital that we think realistically respecting the support and co-operation we’ve received from our allies over the years but sans undue emotions. USA has done the services expected of Pakistan for years at extremely lucrative terms; it would therefore not be unfair or unethical for Pakistan to pursue the betterment of its inhabitants while supporting its allies.

Below are some proposals in regarding what Pakistan can offer considering its own issues and limitations:

  • Pakistan should focus on its ability play the role of an effective mediator to address the concerns of both Iran and KSA just like it did to bring China and USA closer back in the 1970’s.
  • Deploy air support and commanders to lead Gulf forces within their borders (particularly KSA) to ensure effective defence.
  • Deploying its own forces within KSA to protect its borders from outside attacks.
  • As a last resort conduct targeted air-strikes against local militia on formal request from the Yemen Government and KSA led Gulf coalition on the principle of supporting democratically elected government.

What Pakistan can achieve economically in return may include the following:

  • Assurances from both Iran and UAE to stop stirring up trouble in Balochistan resulting in a quicker start of Gawadar project as well as lower spending on counter-terrorism there.
  • Membership of important bodies including GCC with economic implications.
  • Removal of tariffs on Pakistani imports in their countries, with preferential treatment.
  • Attractive deals to secure reliable LNG, LPG, oil, e.t.c. at cheap rates to ensure Pakistan’s growing energy needs are met effectively. Depending on some key factors Pakistan can secure even free supplies for a long period.
  • Offering special nationality packages to Pakistanis working in the countries involved, which can positively influence the foreign exchange reserves of the country.
  • Writing-off of Pakistan’s debts due towards GCC countries.
  • Paying off Pakistan’s other external debts.

This is yet another historic opportunity for Pakistan and it should not be squandered like many in the past. The demands listed above are all very realistic and possible considering the vital role expected of and the possible costs for Pakistan. They’re also much less then what had been taken by the USA for similar services in the past. So if Pakistan is to play the most important role for one of the richest regions in the world, it may as well get due recognition and rewards. After all the law of the nature is such that even brothers working in brothers’ businesses must get rewarded for their work. And what’s better if the rewards are sufficient for one brother while less then what the other was paying to outsiders.

The author is Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, chartered financial analyst, qualified fellow accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk

ISIS: Safeguard Pakistan

The following article is published in the Sunday edition (DNA) of Pakistan Today, dated 6th July 2014

(For online version: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/07/05/comment/isis-safeguard-pakistan/ )

(For published version: Page 8 at:   http://issuu.com/abidoon/docs/dna_issue_31_new/9?e=3820687/8511302  )

ISIS: Safeguard Pakistan

All is not as it seems about the new caliphate in Iraq

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

The author is a Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, qualified accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer  or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk

There are tactical maneuverings in geo-politics and there are games. Then there are great games. It seems like another one is unfolding with critical consequences for the world in general and Muslim countries in particular. Pakistan, as has become the custom lately, seems to be the vanguard for the fallout. The ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria) has literally come out of oblivion with surprising tenacity, resources and success. It is an extreme sectarian group with such extreme ideas that Al-Qaeda divorced it early this year. A few months later, the same ISIS has swept across major towns of Iraq while having a strong hold in areas of Syria. It is estimated to have a net worth of over $2 billion with funding from “sources” in KSA, Kuwait and Qatar, all strong regional allies of USA. It is now moving towards financial “independence” with recent gains on the ground.

A non-entity before their recent mega-arrival on the global scene, ISIS was initially ISI (Islamic State in Iraq) which was born out of the US invasion of Iraq. Its current leader Abu-Baker al Baghdadi is a little known shadowy figure who is hardly ever pictured and relies on audio rather than video messages. The little known history of Mr Baghdadi includes him being a highly qualified individual who served time in the infamous American “terror” prisons. He was released quietly by the US after which he became active in ISIS. Without suggesting any connection let us add to this the fact that US Vice President Joe Biden suggested division of Iraq a few years back into sunni, shia and Kurdish states. This is exactly what’s happening now with ISIS focusing on capturing mainly sunni areas while the Kurds have already attained significant autonomy. Although USA denied Biden’s statement after the ensuing outcry, many journalists and writers continue to vouch for its validity. This should help you start putting pieces together.

The little known history of Mr Baghdadi includes him being a highly qualified individual who served time in the infamous American “terror” prisons. He was released quietly by the US after which he became active in ISIS.

USA formally refers to this group as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) as greater Syria used to comprise of the region of Levant. Before going further let us examine the intentions proclaimed by ISIS/ISIL. Its name, “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” openly communicates the intention to establish an Islamic State in both these regions. We’re well aware of the region comprising Iraq, but not many people are aware of the composition of Levant and its significance. The Levant is the Eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt. In simple words, present day Levant consists of Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and parts of southern Turkey.

This is significant as the stated aim of ISIS includes bringing Islamic rule to the so-called state of Israel. This is bound to arouse Muslim feelings reeling from the injustices of the World Order for a long time now. But one would expect such an attempt to seriously outrage the USA with its imperial doctrine threatened. But surprisingly we are hard pressed to see any mention of this threat let alone outrage from USA, its allies or even “Israel” itself. Instead the entire ISIS affair is painted as a shia-sunni conflict. In order to understand the subtleties, one has to compare this calm response on ISIS’s threat to Levant (Israel) with the ferociousness of USA’s responses on the smallest of perceived threats to Israel. USA and its allies always come out in force to support its poodle in the Middle-East, with Israel itself creating a lot of hue and cry; the latest example was the “global ire” over the deaths of three Israeli occupiers in occupied Palestinian territory following deaths of 15 Palestinians which were lost to the attention of the Imperialist powers. How is the USA so calm over the ISIS threat to Israel?

It is ironic that the USA even denied air-support to the Iraqi government against ISIS, citing potential civilian damage as this never prevented the USA before, not in its air raids on Iraq itself, not during the drone strikes in Pakistan and not in its bombing campaigns elsewhere. Moreover, the funding bases of ISIS are all within key allies of USA who are totally subservient to its will. However while the USA chooses to publicly condemn what it terms as the “terror” unleashed by ISIS, it prefers to look away instead of asking its allies to put a stop to ISIS funding. This treatment of ISIS by USA and its allies is not surprising considering the geo-political situation, the historical analogies and the existence of exploitable divide between sunnis and the shia.

Effectively with ISIS what we see is a strategy unleashed successfully several times before by different imperialists. The last high-profile use was elimination of the Ottoman “Khilafat” using the divide and rule policy along racial lines between Arabs and Turks.

 Effectively with ISIS what we see is a strategy unleashed successfully several times before by different imperialists. The last high-profile use was elimination of the Ottoman “Khilafat” using the divide and rule policy along racial lines between Arabs and Turks. This time the plan is to wedge the sectarian divide to weaken the Muslim world from within once again. This view is further strengthened by the way the USA is enticing Iran into the conflict despite a long history of animosity and still having concerns over Iran’s nuclear program threat to Israel. Furthermore smaller states divided along sectarian and/or ethnic lines are not only weaker and easier to “manage”, but their exploitation is also easier and less resisted.

The fallout of this strategy, however, can be disastrous for Pakistan, which has already been the unfortunate front-line battlefield for proxy wars between Saudia Arabia and Iran. With a sizeable shia population of between 5-15 per cent in a predominantly sunni country, Pakistan has to prepare for the consequences of this great “dirty” game. Further complicating the matters for Pakistan are the aspirations of some key “opinion makers” in USA openly proposing cutting the country to size by annexing Balochistan and KPK, both regions already boiling in trouble. Fortunately, Pakistanis at large are generally tolerant and used to co-existing. The overwhelming majority of Sunnis do not subscribe to the version propagated by ISIS. Moreover it has an organised and strong defence apparatus. However, of late sectarian divisions have been rising, mostly due to foreign sponsored programs and figures. Such troubles from within can weaken even the strongest of states and needs to be attended to with the utmost urgency. It is therefore critical that not only Pakistan cuts off foreign sectarian funding but also gives a strong call to both our brotherly countries to stop washing their dirty linen in our backyard.

Similarly, our friends in USA can be used to “persuade” the American establishment to alter its aspirations planned at the cost of Pakistan by emphasising the losses of an unfriendly nuclear-armed Pakistan to its regional interests, as well as the potential setbacks to its global position by a leading Muslim country joining the camp of its opponents. With China and Russia vying for increased global assertion it should not be too hard to understand.