Unholy alliances By S. Akbar Zaidi - Friday, March 04, 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/04/unholy-alliances.html

IT is difficult to find much in common between Israel and Iran, except that both are strongly committed religious states. Both are also in denial about their nuclear weapons programmes, with one already having weapons of mass destruction and the other eagerly in pursuit of them.

The two have an extremely antagonistic relationship and have threatened to annihilate each other. Israel and Iran also have entirely different relationships with the United States, with the former completely dependent on the US for economic and diplomatic support and serving as America`s main ally in the region. Iran and the US, on the other hand, only have relations of animosity. On the face of it, there doesn`t seem to be much in common between Israel and Iran on this front.

Another unlikely pair of countries is Turkey and Pakistan. Besides the fact that both are Muslim-majority countries, there is even less in common between the former, which aspires to be part of Europe and is clearly drifting towards the European continent, and Pakistan, which just struggles to exist. Turkey has been a stable democracy for many years, and in the same span of time Pakistan has become a rogue state, the most dangerous place in the world as well as a failed state with nuclear weapons.

There are some Pakistani academics and policymakers who argue for Pakistan adopting the `Turkish model`, of incorporating the role of its military into the constitution and legitimating its role within a democratic system. If anything, it is Turkey`s secularism and democracy that Pakistan should learn from and adopt, but not just blindly emulate, since a forced secularism introduces tensions that can give rise to the worst form of religious reaction. Although there is little in common between the two countries, there is much for Pakistan to learn from Turkey, although not much the other way round.

But there is one important feature that unites these four countries in the region. Despite the many contradictions within them, in times of extreme and varied instability, all the way from Morocco to the borders of Iran and beyond, they are a sea of stability, though perhaps not of complete calm. Internal political factors in Iran, for example, and now, it seems, also in Pakistan, are bound to cause political instability, but certainly not of the kind recently seen in Egypt or under way in Bahrain and Libya. Of course, one can also argue that there is relative stability in the authoritarian and hereditary kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Jordan and in the state of Syria, but this is probably a false calm that has every possibility of being disturbed.

Whether it is military despotism or monarchical authoritarianism, these seem to be systems of governance that people have now rejected and are increasingly unwilling to accept. Moreover, whatever one`s opinion about the nature and form of their democracies, Turkey, Israel, Iran and — for once one can say this — Pakistan are all democracies. Who could have thought less than three years ago that Pakistan would be counted as one of the few states in the region that is both relatively stable as well as democratic?

While it is uncertain how events will evolve in the Middle East over the next few weeks, each of these four countries will be affected differently. Perhaps the one country that has the most to fear is Israel, since its security has been threatened by the removal of allies such as Hosni Mubarak and by the resulting weakening of the influence of the United States. As long as it remains relatively stable, Iran probably has the most to gain. Its influence has already grown over the years in Iraq and Lebanon, and if Bahrain ever becomes democratic its Shia majority will also develop relations with Iran. In fact, Iran has benefited already from the diminishing role of the US in Egypt, as seen by the passage of two Iranian navy ships through the Suez Canal after 30 years.

Although most Pakistanis don`t like to see the two clumped together, there is one thing Israel and Pakistan share. Other than the fact that both were the first proclaimed religious states that came into existence, both are also, to varying degrees, client states of the US. Both are heavily dependent on economic aid from America and also have strong ties with the US military. While Israel might feel more threatened by changes in the region, it seems improbable that Pakistan will be affected negatively, save for the short-term impact of oil-price rises and the inevitability of reduced remittances.

If the Middle East moves from authoritarianism towards democracy as many hope, and even if Islamic parties from a varied and wide spectrum are elected, the impact on Pakistan and its course towards further democratisation will probably be strengthened. One expects that its so-called `brotherly relations` with many of the Muslim states will not be affected adversely and relations will continue as before. The one equation likely to be affected, however, is the US-Pakistan relationship.

In a state of instability, America is going to need reliable allies in the region. It may not have as many options as it did over the last three decades and will need to develop new relationships. With the Raymond Davis case hanging over the political and diplomatic horizon, this is a good moment for the Pakistani leadership to reconsider and renegotiate the terms of that engagement. The threat of being bombed to the Middle Ages is now redundant.

The writer is a political economist.

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