Pakistan and the Non-Arab Islamic Bloc

Note: This article by Dr. Alfonse Javed was originally published in Providence Magazine on January 07, 2021.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Arab nations under the leadership of Saudi Arabia have dominated the geopolitics of the Muslim world. In the recent past, there has been evidence of a power struggle between Arab Muslims and non-Arab Muslim leaders. However, now more than ever, the non-Arab Muslim countries are working together to offset the Arabs’ power. Turkey, Qatar, Malaysia, Iran, and Pakistan seem to be creating a new rival Islamic bloc in opposition to the Arab-led Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the second-largest organization in the world after the United Nations with a membership of 57 states, which the Saudis dominate.

OIC enjoys a good working relationship with the United States and its Western allies but the non-Arab Islamic bloc has common grievances against the United States and find China a more favorable option on the global stage. Can Pakistan afford to opt out of being dependent on the United States in favor of China?

Reasons for Division

There are obvious ethnic and denominational differences between the Arab and non-Arab Muslim nations, but there are some personal reasons for the unified non-Arab Islamic front:

  • Turkey seeks to revive its role as the leader of the Muslim world and has been outspoken about its dissatisfaction with the demarcation of modern Turkey.
  • Qatar has been looking for ways to defuse Arab power ever since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt cut their diplomatic and trade ties with Doha, and imposed a sea, land, and air blockade on Qatar in June 2017, claiming it supported “terrorism” and was too close to Iran.
  • Malaysia does not have any particular standing conflict with Arab nations, but in June 2018, Malaysia’s Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu announced the withdrawal of Malaysian forces that had been stationed in Saudi Arabia since 2015, which has created tension between the two governments. Sabu said, “Malaysia has always maintained its neutrality. It has never pursued an aggressive foreign policy,” and that the presence of Malaysian troops in Saudi Arabia “has indirectly mired Malaysia in the Middle East conflict.”
  • BBC reports, “Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been regional rivals, but tensions between the two have recently soared.” Iran is expanding its influence in the region and is seeing a great advantage in creating a rival bloc to OIC to break Saudi’s power.
  • Pakistan seems to be teaming up with Turkey, Qatar, Malaysia, and Iran. Pakistan has realized that it can no longer solely rely on the US for economic and military aid; therefore, it is diversifying its foreign policy by relying on Muslim nations. This move is largely in defiance of the Saudis, who don’t support Pakistan’s position in the Kashmir dispute.

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