Saudi-led alliance vows to ‘eradicate’ terrorism

December 03, 2017
Strong message. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz (C) stands with chiefs of staff and defence ministers of a counterterrorism coalition during their meeting in Riyadh, on November 26. (Saudi Royal Court)

London- Defence ministers and of­ficials from 40 Muslim-majority countries, led by Saudi Arabia, have of­ficially launched a mili­tary alliance, vowing to end terror attacks in their regions.
The gathering in Riyadh of the Islamic Military Counter Terror­ism Coalition (IMCTC) was two days after a terror attack targeted a mosque in Egypt’s Sinai, killing more than 300 people.

“We will not allow them (terror­ists) to distort our peaceful religion. Today we are sending a strong mes­sage that we are working together to fight terrorism,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz said at the meeting. “To­day we affirm that we will pursue terrorism until it is eradicated com­pletely.”
The November 26 gathering marked the official inauguration of the alliance, which was set up in 2015 to counter the Islamic State (ISIS) and other jihadist groups. The coalition’s military command is headed by Pakistani General Raheel Sharif, who served as Paki­stan’s army chief from November 2013-November 2016.
“A number of our member coun­tries are under tremendous pres­sure while fighting well-established terrorist organisations due to ca­pacity shortages of their armed forces and law enforcement agen­cies,” Sharif said on IMCTC’s Twit­ter account.
The alliance “will act as a plat­form to assist member countries in their counterterrorism operations through intelligence sharing and capacity building,” he added.
The meeting’s closing declaration stressed the need to fight terrorism in various domains — including ed­ucation and digital media — and not be confined to military action.
“The ministers uphold their de­termination to address terrorism through education and knowledge, to highlight correct Islamic con­cepts and to establish the truth of moderate Islam, which is consist­ent with human nature and com­mon values, and peaceful and just coexistence with the global com­munity that ensures security and prosperity,” the statement read.
Qatar, which was part of the orig­inal coalition in 2015, was not pre­sent in Riyadh, following charges by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emir­ates, Bahrain and Egypt six months ago that it supports terrorism. Doha denies the allegations, which it says were politically motivated.
The Arab quartet recently added the Qatar-backed International Union of Muslim Scholars and the International Islamic Council (IIC) to its blacklist of entities allegedly linked to terror.
“The ban appears to have been designed to position Saudi Arabia as the arbiter of what constitutes true Islam,” wrote James M. Dorsey, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, in his blog Mideastsoccer.
Iran and countries that are per­ceived as being under its sphere of influence — such as Syria and Iraq — were not invited to join the alliance. Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of being a chief sponsor of ter­rorism, a charge denied by Tehran.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Crown Prince Mo­hammed labelled Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “the new Hitler of the Middle East.”
“This alliance is a clear signal to the Arab-Islamic world that Saudi Arabia still wants to set the main agenda in regional policy and, of course, another instrument of con­taining Iran,” Sebastian Sons, an as­sociate fellow at the German Coun­cil on Foreign Relations, told the German media outlet DW.
Even if the intention is to contain Iran, however, it remains unknown whether the alliance as a whole would act against Tehran.
“The final declaration… suggested that it would be up to the member countries to decide the extent of their participation in the coalition, something that would provide enough room to Pakistan to maintain a delicate balance in its ties — both with Saudi Arabia and Iran,” wrote Kamran Yousaf in the Pakistani newspaper the Express Tribune.
Pakistan’s role in the alliance is important because the IMCTC is led militarily by a Pakistani general and many Saudi troops reportedly receive training from Pakistani per­sonnel stationed in the kingdom. Islamabad, however, does not wish to sour its relations with Iran.
“The current Pakistani Army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, was in Tehran in the first week of Novem­ber, assuring the Iranian leadership about Pakistan’s role in Saudi Ara­bia,” wrote Kunwar Khuldune Sha­hid and Saikat Datta in Asia Times.
“According to several diplomatic sources, General Bajwa assured the Iranians to stay neutral, while also offering help on missile technology and a visit by Iranian scientists to SUPARCO, Pakistan’s official space agency.”