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Middle East concerns

April 29, 2011

A REPORT concerning Pakistan’s position vis-à-vis the turmoil in the Gulf and another about Turkey’s reform proposals to Syria highlight the challenges facing Muslim countries in the neighbourhood of the Arab world. The tension, if not confrontation, between Iran and the Gulf sheikhdoms over Bahrain presents Pakistan with a ticklish question. Given its geographical location, and the people’s sentiments towards the peoples of the Middle East, Pakistan has vital stakes in peace in the region to its west. Its ties of religion and culture with the Arab and Iranian peoples have roots in history and have always managed to survive transient crises and tumult. For that reason, Pakistan should refrain from allying itself with one country against another. It should adopt a principled approach when it comes to the violation of people’s rights, and keep in view both the sentiments of its citizens and its long-term national interests.

In the Levant, the intensity of the uprising against the four-decade old Assad dynasty has attracted the attention of Turkey, which is reported to have come up with proposals to calm the situation in Syria. At the same time, Qatar’s foreign minister has urged Damascus to undertake a constructive dialogue with the dissidents to defuse the crisis. Turkey, which has of late been playing a more assertive role in Middle Eastern affairs, has reportedly suggested to the Syrian regime a three-step reform plan, with the focus on increasing the effectiveness of public services, a transparent economy and the need for security forces to exercise greater restraint while tackling the protests. While the concerns of the Arab world’s friends can well be understood, basically it is for the Arab monarchs and strongmen to realise the gravity of the situation and step back from the precipice to let their people taste freedom. Like the rulers in Yemen and Libya, President Assad, too, has no choice but to concede to the protesters’ demands; otherwise the consequences for him and for his country could be grave. Let him prove wrong those who predict that Syria, too, could have a devastating civil war like the ongoing one in Libya.