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Surah Al-Kahf, Verse 29

وَقُلِ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّكُمْ فَمَن شَاءَ فَلْيُؤْمِن وَمَن شَاءَ فَلْيَكْفُرْ إِنَّا أَعْتَدْنَا لِلظَّالِمِينَ نَارًا أَحَاطَ بِهِمْ سُرَادِقُهَا وَإِن يَسْتَغِيثُوا يُغَاثُوا بِمَاءٍ كَالْمُهْلِ يَشْوِي الْوُجُوهَ بِئْسَ الشَّرَابُ وَسَاءَتْ مُرْتَفَقًا

And say: The truth is from your Lord, so let him who please believe, and let him who please disbelieve; surely We have prepared for the iniquitous a fire, the curtains of which shall encompass them about; and if they cry for water, they shall be given water like molten brass which will scald their faces; evil the drink and ill the resting-place.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT)

The Islamic Military Alliance (IMA), officially the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT(Arabic: التحالف الإسلامي العسكري لمحاربة الإرهاب‎‎), alternative translation Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, is an intergovernmental counter-terrorist alliance of countries in the Muslim world, united around military intervention against ISIL and other counter-terrorist activities. Its creation was first announced by Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Defense, on 15 December 2015.The alliance was to have a joint operations center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
When the coalition was announced there were 34 members. Additional countries joined and the number of members reached 41 when Oman joined in December 2016. On 6 January 2017, Pakistan's former Chief of Army Staff, General (Retd.) Raheel Sharif was named the IMA's first Commander-in-Chief.

History and objectives

The IMA has stated that its primary objective is to protect Muslim countries from all terrorist groups and terrorist organizations irrespective of their sect and name. The IMA affirmed that it would operate in line with the United Nations and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) provisions on terrorism.
At the press conference to launch the IMA, Mohammad bin Salman said it would "coordinate" efforts to fight terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan. He said, "There will be international coordination with major powers and international organisations ... in terms of operations in Syria and Iraq."
To date, all members are countries with Sunni-dominated governments. The alliance does not include any countries with Shia-dominated governments, such as Iran, Iraq and Syria. According to a Euronews report, some analysts see formation of the alliance as part of Saudi Arabian efforts to take the leading role in the Middle East and the Muslim world, in rivalry with Iran.
In March 2016 it was reported that Saudi Arabia had asked General Raheel Sharif, Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, to become commander-in-chief of the Islamic Military Alliance once he had retired from the Pakistan Army at the end of 2016. In January 2017 it was reported that Sharif had set three conditions for taking the post, one of which was that Iran be included in the Islamic Military Alliance. However he hadn't signed the contract yet.

Members

Saudi Arabia's original announcement of the alliance on 15 December 2015 listed 34 countries as participants, each also a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and forming about 60% of all OIC member states.
CountryMembership announcementMilitary roleαSupporterReferences
 Afghanistan18 October 2016YesYes
 BahrainOriginalYesYes
 BangladeshOriginalYesYes
 BeninOriginalN/AN/A
 ChadOriginalYesYes
 ComorosOriginalN/AN/A
 Cote d'IvoireOriginalN/AN/A
 DjiboutiOriginalN/AN/A
 EgyptOriginalYesYes
 Eritrea20 December 2015YesYes
 GabonOriginalN/AN/A
 GuineaOriginalN/AN/A
 JordanOriginalYesYes
 KuwaitOriginalYesYes
 LebanonOriginalN/AYes
 LibyaOriginalYesYes
 MalaysiaOriginalYesYes
 MaldivesOriginalN/AN/A
 MaliOriginalN/AN/A
 MauritaniaOriginalYesYes
 MoroccoOriginalYesYes
 NigerOriginalYesYes
 NigeriaOriginalYesYes
 Oman28 December 2016YesYes
 PakistanOriginalYesYes
 PalestineOriginalN/AN/A
 QatarOriginalYesYes
 Saudi ArabiaOriginalYesYes
 SenegalOriginalN/AN/A
 Sierra LeoneOriginalN/AN/A
 SomaliaOriginalYesYes
 SudanOriginalYesYes
 TogoOriginalN/AN/A
 TunisiaOriginalYesYes
 TurkeyOriginalYesYes
 United Arab EmiratesOriginalYesYes
 YemenOriginalYesYes
 These countries have offered to provide military assistance if needed.

Prospective additional members

At the time of the original announcement, more than ten other Islamic countries, including Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim nation), had expressed their support for the alliance, and Azerbaijan was discussing joining the alliance. In January 2017 Azerbaijan said that joining was "not on the agenda". Tajikistan's ambassador to Saudi Arabia confirmed that Tajikistan is seriously studying the possibility of joining. The following countries have discussed membership, but have not joined the alliance as yet.
CountryStatusReferences
 AzerbaijanPending
 IndonesiaPending
 TajikistanPending

Commanders-in-Chief

Force commanderNationalityStart of tenureEnd of tenure
General Raheel Sharif Pakistan6 January 2017Incumbent
Raheel Sharif as Commander-in-Chief is appointed to head a Saudi-led alliance of Muslim countries.

Military strength

Pakistan Armed Forces has about 1.5 million military personnel with 643,000+ active army personnel with 3,000 main battle tanks, an air force with 1,032 aircraft, and a navy with 63 surface ships, 101 aircraft, and 8 submarines. It has the sixth largest standing armed forces in the world and largest armed forces in the Muslim world. Pakistan is the only member in the alliance with nuclear weapons.
Saudi Arabia Armed Forces has one of the best-funded defence forces in the Middle East. The kingdom spends 25% of its budget, or about $88 billion, on its military. In terms of manpower, Saudi Arabia has about 688,000 active personnel in its military, with 300,000 army troops. It also has more than 200,000 men in its national guard.
Turkish Armed Forces has a strong military-industrial base, producing platforms such as the Altay main battle tank, the MILGEM corvettes, the TAI/AgustaWestland T129 attack helicopter, the Bayraktar unmanned aerial vehicle and the TAI TFX 5th Generation Air superiority fighter. With Turkey's participation and industrial know-how, the alliance intends to create inter-polarity and network centricity.
United Arab Emirates's Union Defence Force possesses the highly advanced F-16 fighters, namely F-16 E/F Block 60. The United Arab Emirates Air Force has also been involved in a series of anti-terrorists operations in Syria.

Reactions

 Bangladesh: Bangladesh was one of the early members to join the alliance doing so on 15 December 2015. The country confirmed its membership in a joint statement by the founder nations that stated "a duty to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organizations whatever their sect and name which wreak death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorize the innocent."
 Egypt: Egypt's Al-Azhar University called the alliance's formation "historic."
 Germany: Germany's defense minister Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the alliance against terrorism but also stressed that it should be a part of the Vienna process involving all countries fighting against IS like the U.S., Europe, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, but also including Iran and China.
 Malaysia: Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein expressed support for the alliance, but ruled out any military support from Malaysia.
 Pakistan: After initial ambiguity Pakistan welcomed the initiative; its government confirmed its participation and stated that the country is waiting for further details in order to decide the extent of its participation in the different activities of the alliance. Although the Commander in Chief of the IMAFT, Gen Raheel Sharif only agreed to command upon the condition that Iran must be the part of this Alliance
 Turkey: Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called it the "best response to those who are trying to associate terror and Islam".
 United States: The new alliance has been welcomed by the United States, with U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter saying, "We look forward to learning more about what Saudi Arabia has in mind in terms of this coalition. But in general it appears it is very much in line with something we've been urging for quite some time, which is greater involvement in the campaign to combat ISIL by Sunni Arab countries.

Questions & Answers 
The above discussion makes it clear that IMA is still at baby stage and its role and influence is yet to be seen. At this point, we can discuss it in the light of below questions: 
What are the things that are still not known of IMAFT?
 It is not clear what kind of organizational structure will it have. Neither, it is clear what would be its stand on Yemen crisis, Iraq and Syria. It is also unclear whether it would be based on NATO’s pattern or Warsaw pact. Also, General Sharif’s appointment does not make it clear if his post is advisory or he has substantial command over the armies of these countries. Also, if General Sharif would need to take orders from Saudi leadership.
 Is there any possibility of Iran joining IMA, given the traditional acrimony between Saudi Arabia and Iran?
The current climate in middle east hints towards a distant possibility of Iran joining IMA. Iran and Saudi Arabia are Shia and Sunni majority countries respectively and are rivals of each other. Iran has different views on several issues including crisis in Yemen and Syria. Even if Iran joins it, the efficacy of IMA as a whole as a military organization would be doubtful. 
What has been reaction of West towards IMAFT? 
The former U.S Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, had welcomed the new alliance. Germany welcomed the alliance but also mentioned that it should be a part of the Vienna process involving all countries fighting against IS like the U.S., Europe, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, but also including Iran and China. 
How about joining of Pakistan and Bangladesh?  Can there be any implications for South Asia also? 
After much ambiguity Pakistan also has welcomed the alliance and confirmed its participation stating that it is waiting for further details in order to decide the extent of its participation in the different activities of the alliance. Bangladesh, being one of the early members to join the alliance, confirmed its participation in a joint statement by the founder nations that stated “a duty to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organizations whatever their sect and name which wreak death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorize the innocent.”
We note here that the clout of an organization like IMAFT can be pillared on military might of countries like Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. For South Asia, there may not be very important implications but for Pakistan’s neighbourhood, it is very important.  We note that Pakistan was invited to join IMA during the Saudi led air-strikes in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The Community in Pakistan had protested against their country joining this bandwagon. At that time, Pakistan had refused to join. This was mainly because of its close energy cooperation with Iran. But at the same time, Saudi Arabia is also one of the largest benefactors of Pakistan. This is the reason, that Pakistan was in quandary to join or not to join.
In News

IMAFT.. Muslim nations take charge of their own security

On 15 of December 2015, Muslim countries decided to take charge or their own security, as a unit. An Islamic military coalition to combat terrorism was born (IMAFT). Saudi Arabia the leader, and 33 nation states as equal partners in an arrangement where the Saudi capital of Riyadh is transformed into the headquarters. One that coordinates and supports military operations aimed at combating extremist threats and standing up to terrorist plots.
In a rare press conference, deputy crown prince and Defence Minister of KSA, Mohammed bin Salman told reporters that the campaign would “coordinate” efforts to fight terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan, but offered few concrete indications of how military efforts might proceed.
“There will be international coordination with major powers and international organisations … in terms of operations in Syria and Iraq. We can’t undertake these operations without coordinating with legitimacy in this place and the international community,” bin Salman said as Reuters published at the time.
When asked if the new alliance would focus just on ISIS, bin Salman said it would confront not only that group but “any terrorist organisation that appears in front of us.”
A long list of Arab countries such as Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, together with Islamic countries Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan and Gulf Arab and African states were mentioned.
However, Iran, was absent from the states named as participants due to its continued support of Houthi rebels in Yemen, Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq, and its attitude towards the well-being of fellow Muslim countries.
Even though Saudi Arabia along with other Muslim countries joining (IMAFT) were members of the The Global Coalition against Daesh (ISIS) formed in September 2014 committed to degrading and ultimately defeating the extremist regime, the announcement of (IMAFT)’s creation cited “a duty to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organizations whatever their sect and name which wreak death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorise the innocent.” i.e not just ISIS, but all terrorist threats.
The move was at the time welcomed by Washington which has been urging a greater regional involvement in the campaign against ISIS militants who control swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. The coalition became so popular, it became to be known as the Muslim “Nato” in western media.
In late December 2016, Oman, joined the Saudi-led coalition. The sultanate indicated its willingness to take part in the what has become a 40-country alliance.
And just a few days into 2017, it was announced, by Pakistani media, that Pakistan’s recently retired army Chief Raheel Sharif would be appointed as the Commander in Chief of the alliance. General Sharif retired last November, the first Pakistani army chief in more than 20 years not to seek an extension to his term like some previous military leaders. Such choice, would come to further validate the close ties, especially in security, between Saudi and Pakistan. It would further perfectly demonstrate how the Kingdom, despite leading the coalition, has also chosen to delegate to its union’s members.
On that, an article published in a Pakistani news outlet last week laid forward a set of questions about the coalition. It wondered about its structure especially that it is not under the wing of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the absence of Iran, and the new Pakistani commander in Chief’s assumption of the role without national pre-agreement.
The article, even though heavily pessimistic of the coalition, has surprisingly opened doors to refute its notions. The reason the coalition does not fall under OIC control is because in the charter article under its creation, there is no specific duty for joint military action. The coalition lead by Saudi, was a decision made, voluntarily by Muslim countries to take charge of their own safety and fight terrorism.
Even though the Kingdom has taken charge, it has also delegated. Researcher Maia Otarashvili who is currently the Program Manager of the Eurasia program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philidelphia notes in a statement to Al Majalla that: “Whenever an indigenous actor in the Muslim world takes the mantle of leadership to cull together a coalition against terrorism, that initiative deserves the support of the international community”. She further adds, “ In developing the “Islamic Coalition,” Prince Mohammed bin Salman has created a new “home address” for coordination and partnership in countering a common adversary.”
In terms of the appointment of new Pakistani commander in chief, the Pakistani government had actually clarified that it welcomed the move, especially that it comes in time where Pakistan still suffers from terrorist attacks on its own soil, and is in need of security restoration. On such note Otarashvili adds, “ From my perspective as a Eurasia specialist, the rubric of an “Islamic coalition” against terrorism is worthy of note”. She elaborates, “ In Central Asia, some of the former Soviet Republics are Muslim-majority countries which have not been as active in international counterterrorism efforts as they could be or should be. Perhaps the Saudi-led coalition, in appealing to a common heritage and faith, can offer a context that more effectively engages these countries in a joint effort”.
As for the third piece of criticism on Iran’s absence, there is no better justification than Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Al-Assiri, the advisor at the defence minister’s office and spokesman of the Arab coalition for Yemen’s peace in December 2015. He at the time noted that “We are now talking about actions to defeat terror and if Tehran is willing to become part of this coalition, it must stop its interference in Syria and Yemen and quit supporting terrorism in Lebanon and Iraq.” Which unfortunately has not been achieved till today.

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