MIDDLE EAST: PAKISTAN HAS KEY ROLE IN SAUDI-SPONSORED ‘SUNNI-BLOCK’

MIDDLE EAST: PAKISTAN HAS KEY ROLE IN SAUDI-SPONSORED ‘SUNNI-BLOCK’


Karachi, 16 Feb. (AKI) – (Syed Saleem Shahzad) – Pakistan will play a pivotal role in a Saudi-devised strategy to build a strong Sunni block to counter the perceived growing influence in the Middle East of Shiites led by Iran, diplomatic sources in Islamabad have told Adnkronos International (AKI). The strategy includes the creation of a multinational Muslim peacekeeping force comprising troops from core Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) member states, said the sources, speaking on condition of anonimity. Also central to the initiative is a policy of rapprochement with Israel aiming to resolve the Palestinian issue, through United States mediation.

Foreign ministers from the core OIC nations – Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia and Malaysia – will meet in Islamabad next month to agree on a plan aimed at the peaceful and speedy resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the sources told AKI.

Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, who has made overtures to Israel would lead efforts to devise a strategy bringing Arab nations and the Jewish state to the negotiating table, the sources said.

That meeting will be followed by a summit hosted by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in Saudi Arabia focusing on the broader issues involve in the creation of the “Sunni Block”, they said. The summit will probably be held in Taif, a hillside resort near the Muslim Holy city of Mecca with the date still to be announced.

The US-led invasion of Iraq has, most observers agree, allowed Shiites who are the majority in that country to re-assert themselves as a political force following years of persecution under Saddam Hussein. The main Shiite dominated power in the region, Iran, which hosted many of the exiled anti-Saddam Iraqi Shiite groups – including the Dawa Party and militias like the Mehdi Army and the Badr Brigades – has consequently extended its influence, which already included support for Lebanon Shiite’s movement Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s ability to withstand Israel’s attempt to crush it during last year’s month-long war in Lebanon has further boosted Shiite, and by the same token, Tehran’s, confidence and standing. In addition, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric has made him a hero in the eyes of Arab youths.

These developments have alarmed Saudi Arabia, the dominant Sunni power in the region, prompting it to seek the support of other mostly Sunni states to rally against the emergence of Iran.

Key to the Saudi strategy has been the co-option of Pakistan, the Muslim world’s only nuclear power and with the largest professional army. Observers believe that Musharraf’s recent tour of five Arab capitals and 4 other Muslim nations, indicated Islamabad’s willlingness to contribute to Riyadh’s plan.

Currently only three of 21 Arab nations recognise Israel -Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania. In 2002 Saudi Arabia unveiled a plan offering Israel diplomatic relations with the other 18 Arab nations if the Jewish state accepts the borders it had in 1967 – a move which would require withdrawing from the West Bank and the Golan Heights – and cede this land to a new Palestinian state.

(Aki/Syed Saleem Shahzad)

Feb-16-07 17:18

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