Saturday, 21 May, 2022
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Saudi Arabia can’t help solve Kashmir issue because it now lacks legitimacy in Muslim world

Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman can snub Imran Khan and court Narendra Modi, but he won't sideline his military ties with the Pakistan armed forces.

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Saudi Arabia again – his second trip in four years that many see as having the potential to solve India’s Kashmir issue. The cosying up between Riyadh and New Delhi is a signal to Pakistan that countries symbolising the Muslim ummah now stand with India instead.

The problem, however, is that the new Saudi Arabia is very different from even the pre-2010 one. Led by an ambitious, young, modern leader, who wants to modernise the state and westernise it culturally, does not have the same legitimacy in the Muslim world anymore. The Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is trying hard to do a balancing act, silencing the religious Right through oppression by gagging noted Saudi religious scholars while depending on some traditions in order to not entirely lose political legitimacy.

Therefore, despite that Israeli aircraft flying in and out of Riyadh and efforts of US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, one of the chief architects of Trump’s Middle East peace plan and a close friend of the crown prince, Palestine continues to be mentioned in the officially transmitted prayers, especially in Mecca and Medina. Similarly, as I observed myself, writings of the former grand mufti, the rabid, although pragmatic, Sheikh Abdul Aziz ibn Abdullah ibn Baz, are still available in the two holy cities.

The desire for modernity among Saudi rulers is not new. It dates back to the first ruler of the Saudi state, Muhammad ibn Saud, who established a nation-state in the Arabian Peninsula in 1932. His sons, including King Faisal, who was killed by his own nephew in 1975, faced opposition by the religious clergy for his perceived sin of bringing modern technology in Saudi Arabia. Faisal’s wife Iffat al-Thunayan opened schools for women. Clearly, the incumbent crown prince Muhammad bin Salman, popularly known as MbS and considered the de facto king, wants to take development several notches higher and is brutal in his pursuit of power.

Also read: Modi govt is riding a tiger in Kashmir. This will only lead to more Kulgam-like violence

Only a good business partner

His political ambitions make India an attractive destination for Riyadh. Unlike Pakistan, which wants Saudi money but is shy of a total embrace because it could have high costs for the country’s security, Riyadh’s relationship with New Delhi can actually work.

Indian Muslims do not necessarily pose an ideological burden on Saudi Arabia as compared to Pakistan’s. Riyadh will never want to be burdened with claims of infesting India with radicalism, an accusation it hears from Pakistan. Moreover, Modi’s India has little qualms about engaging with Saudi Arabia riddled with accusations of human rights atrocities. This makes India similar to Pakistan but different from a number of western states.

Not surprisingly, Saudi Aramco agreed to invest reportedly US$ 15 billion into Reliance Industries. In business terms, this is a major breakthrough as it brought the largest foreign investment project in India without threatening the Ambani empire. No wonder New Delhi is ready to put its eggs in the Saudi basket and temporarily abandon the Chabahar project in Iran.

The continuation of this sheen in New Delhi and Riyadh’s relationship depends upon money in Indian pockets. But it is also worth remembering that MbS has other priorities too. He can ignore and snub Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan by not inviting him to his ‘Davos in the Desert’ and instead invite Narendra Modi, but he is not about to sideline his military ties with the Pakistan armed forces. Not only does he have a retired Pakistani general at his beck and call, MbS also has good ties with Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Lest we forget, MbS played a key role in arranging Imran Khan’s meeting in July this year with Donald Trump, which in reality was a meeting between Trump and Bajwa. The general was equally cool with his prime minister getting a cold shoulder.

In any case, Pakistan military is well-entrenched in the system of securing Saudi royalty for decades, which may be one of the reasons that Riyadh did not shun Islamabad despite the latter’s refusal to fight openly in Yemen, and not take a clear position against Iran.

Also read: Pakistan Army chief General Bajwa has two big challenges now. Kashmir is just one of them

Saudi Arabia not the inspiration

Can Saudi Arabia help solve the Kashmir issue? An MbS-led Saudi Arabia does not have legitimacy in the larger Islamic world despite physically being at the centre of the Muslim ideological imagination.

Today, the ordinary South Asian Muslim may be more thrilled by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad than MbS. Mahathir’s condemnation of the situation in Kashmir and not bowing down to India’s pressure of cancelling palm oil import has already enhanced his international credibility. Some would even put Imran Khan in the same list. Not that these leaders are above board but the point being made here is that Saudi Arabia is in no position to influence the thinking of ordinary Muslims or alter the religio-political discourse in the Islamic world.

While Saudi Arabia’s efforts to distance itself from its staple Wahabi ideology may open doors for Muslim states and Muslim citizens to think deeply about the concept of Islamic nationalism, the idea of ummah has not died entirely. It probably requires an intelligent and organic discourse that is yet to take place. The absence of a strong entity or a forum in the Islamic world that has legitimate capacity to engage with issues faced by Muslims across the world could create greater space for non-state militant entities, or simply nourish frustration.

The Indian or for that matter a Kashmiri Muslim, on the other hand, wouldn’t be inspired by an oppressive prince as they are increasingly feeling more scared, disenfranchised and unrepresented in India. It’s a fact that the number of Muslim representatives in the Indian Parliament is nowhere close to being proportionate to their share in the country’s population. The Muslim representation in the Indian military has also reduced. For Muslims in India, their conditions are a greater influence than ideology.

Moreover, once in Saudi Arabia, the Indian Muslim, due to sharing a common language, is far closer to a Pakistani Muslim than Muslims from other parts of the world. I recall my own experience of sitting in the mosque of the Prophet in Medina in a group that had women from different parts of Pakistan and India (including from Kerala) as we were all identified as belonging to the same language category – Urdu.

Also read: This is why Pakistan can no longer respond militarily to India’s Kashmir move

Not that engaging Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States is not a worthwhile policy. However, India should value Saudi Arabia for capital gains rather than for political and ideological troubleshooting. India will have to look inside to find a solution to its Muslim issue.

The author is Research Associate at SOAS, University of London and author of Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy. She tweets as @iamthedrifter. Views are personal.

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  1. Legitimacy as defined by a fool is not worth noting.For Pakistanis if someone does not support them they are illegitimate for the whole world. They truly do live in delusion.

  2. Quite low-level intelligence displayed by the Print’s editorial board of having a Pakistani journalist pen such a sensitive issue…..quite shameful act by The Print….you are fast losing credibility…wake up…

  3. Mahathir is going to pay a heavy price for his arrogance, 3 billion dollars palm oil imports gone and India is already working behind the scenes with western government agents to depose him and replace him with Anwar Ibrahim, Mahathirs days as PM are numbered,. Erdogan is getting a thick soup cooked for him in Kurdistan, India will display its hand there via Syria shortly, Modi cancelled his Ankara visit too along with a 2 billion dollar defence contract for a Turkish shipping giant. In a short time, both Malaysia and Turkey will be in hot water for the FATF veto and for their own stupidity. Fazalur Rehman will also take down the puppet Imran

  4. Kurds are not Muslims, they are man eating ALIENS. Turkey is the greatest defender of the whole world, isn’t it?

  5. The reason given is that Muslim migrants could be a problem for Poland’s homogenous society.

    Kaczyński reiterated his antipathy toward refugees in an interview with the Gazeta Polska Codziennie newspaper published Monday, warning that Poland “would have to completely change our culture and radically lower the level of safety in our country.” He also said that Poland “would have to use some repression” to prevent “a wave of aggression, especially toward women” on the part of asylum seekers.

  6. What is it about the caliphate that is so seductive to millions of Muslims? This archaic institution was relevant in the early days of Islam when Muslims enjoyed some semblance of unity. But those days are long gone. Perhaps some believers think the restoration of a caliph and the emergence of a caliphate would somehow bring back the glory days when Islam ruled a large part of the known world.

    But these pipe dreams prevent Muslims from doing the hard work needed to catch up with the rest of the world. Instead of focusing on education and economic growth, they indulge in fantasies and conspiracy theories. So when a Bin Laden or a Baghdadi arrives, they think he is Saladin reincarnated to lead Muslims to regain their lost empires.

    Terrorism is no substitute for toil, just as fantasises cannot replace facts and figures. Both show how far behind we are. Irfan Hussain in DAWN

  7. As a matter of strategy, Pakistan should declare and recognize erstwhile state of J&K as an independent sovereign Islamic State of J&K with Muzzafarabad as its federal capital and Azad Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan as its liberated provinces. This will enable China, Turkey, Malaysia ( and may be even UK!) to recognize J&K as an independent state (just like India did at the time of liberation of Bangla Desh which was recognized by Bhutan and USSR later). China should transfer Shaksgham valley area to the newly formed state as a gesture of goodwill. Pakistan should sign of pact mutual defense with the newly formed state and even offer it its nuclear umbrella support. After that, liberation of areas of J&K occupied by India can be a legitimate objective and can be pursued by the Islamic state of J&K. This will kill all the references to UN on J&K issue and open a new chapter for liberation of Kashmir. A new chapter can begin for liberation of J&K thereafter!

    Why not Ayesha offer such a brilliant advise to Imran Khan, instead of getting into some illogical and warped thinking on Kashmir, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia etc ?

  8. Saudi arab is a modern state kafirs like print journalists and kuffar idol worshippers and yrine drinkers and western world and americans are barbarians who drink urine eat shit and have multiple sexual partners illegitimate children and many more they are all disgusting creatures worst than animals instesd of telling islamic world about modernism one should self introspact where they are standing barbarians

    • Are they worse than you terrorist fundoos? And if the western countries are so bad, why do Muslims prefer to emigrate there?

  9. Good analysis. In any plural society, you can only unite people on nationalism because there are so many religions and languages live together , you can’t select one language or religion. That is the challenge Indian Muslim faces, when they see outside and start comparing them with other Muslims nation.

  10. Turkey has taken in a very large number of Syrian refugees, and unlike India, Malaysia has admitted some Rohingya refugees. And the writer of this article (an expert on the role of the military in Pakistan) is a Pakistani not an Indian.

    • Turkey threatened to let refugees enter Europe and due to this open blackmail, is getting money from European countires to meet the expenditure of refugee camps, so that the refugees do not flood Europe. As far as Rohingyas are concerned, there are more than forty thousamd in Jammu Region. Why Muslims in Kashmir Valley are not giving them shelter? You are spreading disinformation.


  11. The author seems to put being a Muslim ahead of being an Indian, no wonder she keeps lamenting about the fictional “Ummah”. Neither Turkey nor Malaysia will take in any Muslim refugees from anywhere in the world, their great Caliph’s may posture all they want, the truth is that the entire world is now wary of foreigners. It is time to forget religious unity and focus on working hard for the betterment of your country regardless of the religion.

    • She is a pak journo. They can only look till religion. Anyways India is India and Arabia is Arabia, anybody who is India should follow Indian culture not any Arabi.

    • What did you expect from a Paki😀
      Pakis are very vile, fanatic and 100% Muslimists/ Islamists. We can never understand them.

      A “progressive” Paki wants Jihad on India as much as a religious Paki.😀

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