Saudi Arabia has asked Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Central Asian republics to join it and its Gulf allies in an alliance, aimed at containing the influence of Iran and supporting the Saudi-led intervention in Bahrain. While these countries are yet to openly come out in favour of such a grouping, the United States has expressed concern that any such alliance may only further exacerbate tensions and end up strengthening Iran’s hand.
In a pointed message to Tehran, the head of the Saudi National Security Council, Prince Bandar bin Sultan al Saud, has asked Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Central Asian republics to give their diplomatic support to Saudi-led efforts at containing the majority Shi’ite revolt in Bahrain. This would lend support to the Sunni-led Bahraini Government and its regional allies, Saudi Arabia and the Arab states of the Gulf
Co-operation Council. The door has been left open for possible military contributions in the future.
Saudi Arabia leads a 4,000-strong force that entered Bahrain in March 2011, at the invitation of the ruling al-Khalifa family. Saudi troops make up most of the intervention force, while the other GCC states have contributed smaller numbers. Iran denies overtly supporting the Bahraini protesters, but the Arab states remain suspicious of their longstanding rival across the Persian Gulf.
Despite the attractiveness of limiting Iranian influence, Washington is concerned that overall religio-political tensions could be increased by such an alliance. This would hamper the chances of a peaceful outcome to the recent Middle East uprisings and possibly push Bahraini Shi’ites towards Iran. Were the alliance to take shape, it could lead to discord in US-Saudi relations.
Pakistan has yet to comment, other than to state that it has no plans to despatch additional forces to Bahrain. Pakistani forces have been training their Bahraini counterparts for some time but are, according to Islamabad, not involved in the invention.
Malaysia has previously backed the Saudi involvement in Bahrain and has stated its willingness to send peacekeeping troops, if requested by the Bahraini Government. Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak stated on 13 May, that:
‘These forces will assist the legitimate mission of Gulf Co-operation Council forces, which are playing a vital role in ensuring the success of the national dialogue in Bahrain. If invited, Malaysia will consider it a great honour to offer assistance in this noble effort.’
As yet, no response to the Saudi alliance proposal has been forthcoming from Kuala Lumpur or the other countries that were approached. It may be that, like Washington, they too view an anti-Iran alliance as a step too far.
Leighton G. Luke
Indian OceanResearch Programme
New Straits Times, 14 May 2011, ‘Peacekeepers to Bahrain if needed’.