The Storm in the Arab Spring

  • Saeed Naqvi

Tunisia, Eygpt, Syria?events may seem to be following a pattern but the changing dynamics in West Asia point to far more complex political and strategic games being played: The US role, Saudi phobia, Israeli and Iranian intrigues. Oil. And, to top it all, the Shia-Sunni face-off. Is Turkey being lured in as a possible Joker in the pack? Welcome to another Great Game.

As the “Arab Spring” is replaced by other, gloomier seasons, profiles of nations outside the hard core Arab arena swim into our ken – Turkey, for instance. Indian independence coincided with the beginning of the Cold War. India became a leader of the non-aligned movement which dictated a sort of indifference to Turkey which had become a key member of (NATO) North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In other words, it stood in opposition to Soviet Russia with which India was developing a special friendship.
Iran and Pakistan also joined the Western bloc, facilitating what came to be known as the Teheran-Islamabad-Ankara axis, not without a tinge of hostility towards India as towards other non-aligned nations. In 1978 Afghan Communist Parties came to power in Kabul paving the way for Soviet occupation. This traumatic event further enhanced Islamabad’s role in the anti-Soviet Jehad.
A year later, the Ayatullahs replaced the Shah in Teheran. At the outset, it was a most peaceful transition. Ayatullah Khomeini, in exile on the outskirts of Paris, was flown into Teheran even as the Shah was flown out. But contrary to whatever gameplans the West may have had, the Ayatullahs entrenched themselves and, according to Western allegations, are now well and truly on the nuclear path. War clouds are hovering over the Strait of Hormuz.
Ankara, meanwhile, has been a steadfast, member of NATO, an American camp follower and, until, the other day, an enthusiastic candidate for entry into Europe. According to a distinguished Turkish journalist, Mehmet Birand, we were “a docile ally of the West”, without much interest in the Middle East or other areas of foreign policy. “But today we are a dissident country in the western alliance.”
For decades, secularism bestowed by Ataturk was non-negotiable, and the Army was its principal protector. But the hard ground on which the Army’s secularism stood began to soften somewhat in the aftermath of the Bosnian war which lasted from 1992 to 1995.
Bosnia-Herzegovina resonates in the Turkish psyche because it was once a key part of the Ottoman empire. Sarajevo derives from the Turkish word “sarai” or a halting place. Therefore, the televised four year long siege of Sarajevo deeply affected the Turkish population, stoked anti-Westernism and had the political consequence of bringing the Islamist Refah Party to power in Ankara.

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