EDITORIAL: Things have been moving very fast in the Middle East ever since China brokered a historic peace between arch rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Very quickly, Tehran restored diplomatic relations with Abu Dhabi, severed since 2016 as part of the wider standoff against Riyadh, Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers have met twice in Beijing, the Saudis are inviting Syrian President Bashar al Assad to the Arab League summit in May, and a Saudi and Omani delegation has visited Yemen’s capital Sanaa to talk peace with the Houthis.
Clearly, then, either the Chinese initiative was not restricted to Iran and Saudi Arabia and extended to cover many more fractures in the Arab world, or the Arabs and Iranians have decided among themselves to leverage this initiative and end all unnecessary and unproductive hostility in the entire region.
If this does indeed work out the way it seems to be playing out, Saudi Arabia will no longer need its war in Yemen, which means Iran and its allies will have no business trying to sabotage any offensive there. And Riyadh and its camp would have no further cause to bring down the Ba’athist dictatorship in Damascus, and the ugly Syrian civil war that has gone on for 13 years should come to a quick end.
If this leads to a unified Arab front in partnership with Iran, brokered and guaranteed by China as well as Russia, just when the latter have made common cause to confront American dominance of world politics and economics, then the 21st century ‘cold war’ will be very different from the 20th century’s.
There are important lessons in these developments for countries in South Asia, especially Pakistan and India whose long confrontation has led to a childish breakdown in diplomacy and bilateral as well as regional trade.
The main reason outfits like Saarc and Asean never lived up to their potential was India’s habit of subverting any initiative that included Pakistan. And the only results that really stand out are that the entire continent is worse off for it, in terms of trade earnings as well as a whole host of social indicators that would naturally have improved with more production and commerce in the region.
The new century, with existential challenges like the impending climate catastrophe as well as a population explosion that pressures food supplies, is all about forging the right kind of partnerships.
Unfortunately, the America-led group of countries that has got used to running the world is still bent upon employing the old model of pitting other countries against each other – as typified by the Ukraine war – instead of trying to bring them together for peaceful, commercial ideals, as China is trying.
Needless to say, of course, that the subcontinent is no stranger to that old hatred. For three quarters of a century both Pakistan and India have tried their best to do the other harm. Perhaps the biggest roadblock to peace is India’s refusal to allow outside mediation, much like the Saudi-Iranian position till they suddenly let China in the door and help sort things out.
We must also factor in that India and Pakistan are also two of the top-5 most heavily populated countries in the world, which puts an added burden on both governments to secure the future of their huge populations, especially their large youth bulges.
It’s a shame that the temperature continues to rise in South Asia even as Aalam-e-Arab and Aalam-e-Ajam find new ways to put out old fires.
Pakistan, at least, stands at the very edge of the abyss. It must support all efforts to promote peace and end hostilities rooted in a bygone era.
That is why Islamabad backs the positive developments in the Gulf and hopes for similar progress closer to home.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023