Saudi Anti-Terror Alliance

Saudi Arabia has announced formation of a military coalition to fight against ISIS. Its 34 members are mainly Muslim countries from Asia and Africa.

What Saudi Arabia has announced?

Saudi Arabia Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that the coalition would work with other countries and international organisations to support anti-terrorism efforts. He said the coalition is the outcome of the Islamic world’s vigilance in fighting with terrorism. He also said that presently every Muslim country is fighting terrorism individually and now coordination is very important.

Why Saudi Arabia announced it?

The Muslim and Arab countries are pressurised to fight more against Daesh. Saudi Arabia is repeatedly accused of encouraging Wahhabi clerics. The West is also under pressure to explain its relations with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia could also be trying for good relations with West.  The announcement could also be linked to domestic compulsions of Prince Salman and his need of consolidating the power. Saudi’s rivalry with Iran is also creating fear of losing its regional position once the west lifts sanctions on Iran.

What are the issues with it?

Saudi announced that the coalition will fight against terrorism. But there was no real definition or characterization of the threat and no reference to radical jihad.

The composition of the coalition is also strange. The two big Shia majority countries Iran and Iraq are absent, making it primarily a Sunni grouping. There is a question on how the term military alliance can be applied to a group that includes Togo, Guinea, Comoros and Benin as members. Few member countries such as Pakistan expressed surprise that how Saudi Arabia included it as a member.

Afghanistan and Iraq are global hotspots of terrorism and it is not clear how the alliance would carry any operations in those countries who are not its members.

Except that the alliance would have its command centre in Riyadh, no other details of military commitment are available. It was not clear where the troops will be deployed, what are their likely areas of operation, and whether it would coordinate with western powers in their existing areas of operations.

All the above issues raise questions about seriousness of the alliance and its operations.

If operational details are worked out, will the alliance become an effective force against terrorism?

Even if the operational details are worked out, still there is scepticism because of Saudi’s record on terrorism. Saudi has been supporting the extremist Wahhabi ideology for many years and it is the source of world terror. It is known to everyone that the Saudi’s main worry is about Iran and Shia. Its ultimate goal remains the removal of the Iran-backed Alawite Shia President Bashar al-Assad.

It is viewed that this coalition of the unwilling and self-interested countries is unlikely to make much of progress either on the battlefield or in the politics of the anti-ISIS struggle. It is suggested that if the Arab world really wanted to do something, they should first take the task of religiously and politically delegitimizing their own extremists at home and in the region.