Showing posts from October, 2021

Religious ultra-conservatism has a field day in Pakistan. It puts Saudi Arabia on the Spot

  By James M. Dorsey Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism is having a field day. Barely three months after the Taliban claimed victory in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the second most populous Muslim-majority state, is moving to join Kabul in becoming an outpost of religious intolerance and Muslim supremacy. In doing so, Pakistan, alongside Afghanistan, has come down on the side of countries like Turkey and Iran that advocate various forms of political Islam and public adherence to the faith as opposed to Gulf states and movements such as Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama that project themselves with various degrees of sincerity as beacons of a tolerant and pluralistic interpretation of the faith. That has not stopped Pakistan from forging ties with both sides of the divide. In doing so, Pakistan benefits from shifting battlefields in the Middle East as rivals seek to dial down tensions to avoid conflicts from spinning out of control. In the latest move, Saudi Arabia revived its financial supp

The pendulum gradually swings towards international engagement with the Taliban

  By James M. Dorsey The Taliban and Pakistan, both viewed warily by the West and others in the international community, appear to be benefitting from mounting concerns about the humanitarian and security situation in Afghanistan. The European Union, in a move that could put the United States in an awkward position, is close to reopening its mission in the Afghan capital and offering member states to use it as an operational base for their own diplomats. The move would enhance European engagement of the Taliban but stop short of diplomatically recognizing the group as Afghanistan’s new rulers. The Taliban government has yet to win recognition from anyone in the international community. The EU, its member states, and the United States had moved their diplomatic missions to the Qatari capital of Doha in August as they evacuated Kabul in the wake of the Taliban takeover of the city. European officials said a reopening of the EU mission was necessary to manage a €1 billion emerg

Turkey and Iran find soft power more difficult than hard power

  By James M. Dorsey The times they are a changin’. Iranian leaders may not be Bob Dylan fans, but his words are likely to resonate as they contemplate their next steps in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon, and Azerbaijan. The same is true for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president’s shine as a fierce defender of Muslim causes, except for when there is an economic price tag attached as is the case of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims, has been dented by allegations of lax defences against money laundering and economic mismanagement. The setbacks come at a time that Mr. Erdogan’s popularity is diving in opinion polls. Turkey this weekend expelled the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden for calling for the release of philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala in line with a European Court of Human Rights decision. Neither Turkey nor Iran can afford the setbacks that often

Iran poll contains different messages for Biden and Raisi

  By James M. Dorsey “It’s the economy, stupid.” That is the message of a just-published survey of Iranian public opinion. However, the substance of the message differs for newly elected hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and the Biden administration as Mr. Raisi toughens his negotiating position and the United States grapples with alternative ways of curbing the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme should the parties fail to agree on terms for the revival of the 2015 international agreement. Iranians surveyed last month by Iran Poll and the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies were telling Mr. Raisi that they are looking to him to alleviate Iran’s economic and other problems and have little hope that a revived nuclear agreement will make the difference, given lack of trust in US and European compliance with any agreement reached. The Iranians polled seemed in majority to endorse some form of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s notio

Shaping US Middle East policy amidst failing states, failed democratization and increased activism

  Source: Middle East Report, Spring 2020 nbr 294 By James M. Dorsey The future of US engagement in the Middle East hangs in the balance. Two decades of forever war in Afghanistan and continued military engagement in Iraq and elsewhere in the region have prompted debate about what constitutes a US interest in the Middle East. China, and to a lesser degree Russia, loom large in the debate as America’s foremost strategic and geopolitical challenges. Questions about US interests have also sparked discussion about whether the United States can best achieve its objectives by continued focus on security and military options or whether a greater emphasis on political, diplomatic, economic, and civil society tools may be a more productive approach. The debate is coloured by a pendulum that swings from one extreme to the other. President Joe Biden has disavowed the notion of nation-building that increasingly framed the United States’ post-9/11 i

US military presence in the Middle East: The less the better

  By James M. Dorsey It may not have been planned or coordinated but efforts by Middle Eastern states to dial down tensions serve as an example of what happens when big power interests coincide. It also provides evidence of the potentially positive fallout of a lower US profile in the region. Afghanistan, the United States’ chaotic withdrawal notwithstanding, could emerge as another example of the positive impact when global interests coincide. That is if the Taliban prove willing and capable of policing militant groups to ensure that they don’t strike beyond the Central Asian nation’s borders or at embassies and other foreign targets in the country. Analysts credit the coming to office of US President Joe Biden with a focus on Asia rather than the Middle East and growing uncertainty about his commitment to the security of the Gulf for efforts to reduce tensions by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirate and Egypt on the one hand and on the other, Turkey, Iran, and Qatar. Those