EDITORIAL: The kind of influence that the Trump administration retains over Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states even in its dying days in office is nothing short of remarkable. True, there was a convergence of interests in that everybody wanted a show of unity among Iran’s traditional regional rivals before Biden forced everybody back into the nuclear deal with Tehran, but considering the way Saudi and Qatari state media outlets, including Doha-based Al-Jazeera, continued to spew venom against each other till very recently a thaw didn’t really seem imminent. Full marks, then, to not just the Trump team but also key regional mediators like Kuwait for engineering this rapprochement.
Yet it’s not as if everything will be forgiven and forgotten just because Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hugged and kissed Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hammad Al Thani in the traditional Arab style for the whole world to see, even if it does mean that they have decided to let go of enough to start working together once again. The coming months will tell how well they have been able to paper over the cracks as the Middle East prepares to re-engage over Iran in a very different setting. It was after all tiny but extraordinarily wealthy Qatar’s independent streak when it comes to foreign policy that angered GCC heavyweights and led to the split three years ago, especially its support for the Muslim Brotherhood whose rise after the so-called Arab Spring made Gulf monarchs somewhat uncomfortable and its tilt towards Iran once the Arab plan about the Syrian civil war began to go sour.
How well Doha is able to juggle between all the demands of a show of Gulf unity and its growing ties with and dependence on Tehran will clearly be the deciding factor. And the fact that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a point of mentioning Iran in his speech after everybody met and made up speaks volumes about how tough Qatar’s position is going to be. Still, it’s better if they face such problems, if and when they come, in a friendly setting rather than a hostile one.
One of the things that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in particular want Qatar to fall very quickly in line about is its increasingly warm relations with Turkey. As old friends left it out of the circle, Doha found itself pushed increasingly into the embrace of new ones, which included not just Iran but also Turkey. And since the GCC bloc doesn’t get along too well with either, it naturally wants Qatar to scale down its relations with them as well. Pakistan, of course, is very good friends with both of them, and hence understands the immense complexity of the issue perhaps better than any other country in the world. Already, the prime minister has had to do a significant amount of damage control with Arab friends because of his initiatives with others, including Turkey.
So the jury is still out on how things might eventually settle in the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. But a very good new beginning has been made and there is every reason to expect, based on this recent show of maturity, that talk and threats of war in the region will soon give way to far more amicable forms of engagement. While diplomatic differences are routine, especially in places as explosive as the Gulf, there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that any more military adventures in the area are just not on the table. As a very important stakeholder and one of Iran’s immediate neighbours, Pakistan should join other countries that have been distressed by all the confrontationist rhetoric to make it very clear to everybody that war should be simply out of the question.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021