Articles and analysis

Pakistan's relations with both the United States and Afghanistan continue to be strained and are likely to remain so. The recent spat in which President Trump denounced Pakistan's "lies and deceit" in a New Year's Day Tweet, and Pakistan's response that it would "let the world know who is lying", coupled with the US withholding $255 million of US aid since Summer 2017 is very public evidence of that strain, says Dr Sohail Mahmood.

The Ghani government in Afghanistan alleges that Pakistan provides safe havens for the Taliban militants seeking to destabilise Afghanistan. Both it and the USA have repeatedly argued that the leadership councils of the Taliban and the Haqqani terrorist network are based in Pakistan, where they plan and coordinate attacks inside Afghanistan. The United States also blames Pakistan for allowing terror groups to operate from its soil.

The powerful Pakistan Army vehemently refutes these charges and claims that that is no organised infrastructure of any banned organisation in Pakistan. It maintains that there are no facilitators of terrorist groups in Pakistan. The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is mostly unsecured and for the first time the Pakistan Army has started to fence it for effective border management.


ISIS is on the asymmetric back foot, having lost it stranglehold on territory across Iraq and Syria. However the organisation should be understood as a persistent symptom of two inseparable and ongoing issues in the Middle East, writes Tom Spencer.


Post US led invasion, a vicious cycle of sectarianism has perpetuated virulent jihadism; recurrent militant insurrection will likely erupt at particular flash points stemming from Al Anbar province. With unsecured borders, vast geographic sparsity and historic Ba'athist Sunni support for Saddam Hussein centre in towns - Fallujah and Ramadi – Al Anbar has twice provided insurgents' freedom of movement to springboard jihad against Iraq's Shia led government.


Beyond Iraq, there is a transnational struggle for political-religious hegemony between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, fought via regional proxies; ISIS is merely one faction co-opted into the wider war. As the flash point amidst Iraq's jidhadist woes, it is no coincidence that Al Anbar province borders Syria, Jordan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; the spectre of Iran lies to the east. Inversely to Saddam's Iraq regime, Syria's premiership, led ostensibly by President Bashar Al-Assad, relies upon an Alawite religious minority, a branch of Shia Islam, for support.

In Spring 2011, facing a popular and once secular revolt against Syria's government, it was unsurprising that Assad progressively invited Shia Iran and its regional paramilitary proxy Hezbollah, in situ Lebanon, to reinforce his ailing military. An indecisive West feared supporting a revolt that included Wahhabi Sunni extremists; private donors amongst Sunni Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, did not. Western indolence persisted as a loose 'Sunni' jidhadist coalition - Al-Nusura Front - grew in dominance as it pooled men and material from across the Gulf. Civil war engulfed Syria. Reaching stalemate with Assad's military prior to Iranian reinforcement, Islamists dismembered secular factions - once 'children of the revolution.'

In 2013, ISIS - a reconstituted Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) - also answered the call to arms of Al-Nusura Front. It later manoeuvred to assume group lead in order to draw more fighters, lay claim to a cross border caliphate and switched fire to exploit Iraq's sectarian resurgence. No longer undecided, a Western led coalition responded militarily in 2014 to ISIS's regional land grab.

Now beaten back, an account of the now widely-dubbed DAESH (ISIS)'s short lived yet rapid trajectory within this proxy war is vital to understanding how it will almost certainly persist. (Continued on next page)

The "Cold War" between Saudi Arabia and Iran has the potential to escalate into a "Hot War". Not since the 1979 Iranian Revolution have relations between the two countries been so strained, writes Joseph E Fallon.

The Iranian Revolution radically altered how Tehran and Riyadh perceived the other. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia now defined their respective identities in sectarian terms, Shia and Sunni, with each viewing the other as an existential threat.

For Tehran and Riyadh, the past became the present. The 1,400 year old battle of Karbala at which Hussein, son of Caliph Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammed, was killed, resulting in the schism of the Islamic community into Shia and Sunni, is being refought daily by Tehran and Riyadh. Through inflammatory rhetoric and proxy wars, each seeks to defeat the other, religiously and politically, to become the paramount power in the Middle East.

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