In an announcement that took much of the world by surprise, Saudi Arabia declared the formation of a coalition of 34 mainly Muslim states to coordinate a fight against "terrorist organizations."
Mohammed bin Salman, the country's deputy crown prince and defense minister, said countries from all regions of the world, including Qatar, the UAE, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Nigeria will be included in the alliance.
"There will be international coordination with major powers and international organizations ... 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," he stated in a press conference.
Bin Salman added the Islamic State group will not be the sole target of the new military coalition, saying it would fight “any terrorist organization that appears in front of us."
It is, indeed, a huge initiative, especially coming from a country like Saudi Arabia, which is believed to have been the most significant source of funding to terrorist groups worldwide for decades.
However, the timing of the announcement and some glaring omissions in the self-styled “Islamic military alliance” suggests it’s more of an attempt to repair the Saudi government’s increasingly tarnished reputation in international security and politics.
The formation of the alliance was rather sudden. It comes just days after German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel bluntly accused the Gulf kingdom of sponsoring Islamic fundamentalists across the globe.
The abruptness of the decision also reflected in its announcement during which bin Salman failed to provide a clear plan of action against terrorism. In fact, the move was so unexpected that Pakistan, one of the countries included in the coalition, apparently, didn’t even know it was a part of it.
“Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said he was surprised to read the news that Saudi Arabia had named Pakistan as part of the alliance,” reported Dawn News, a major Pakistani English-language newspaper, adding another senior official said Islamabad was not consulted before inclusion in the alliance.
Another troubling aspect of the Islamic coalition is while Riyadh plans to combat radicals, it still isn’t willing to set aside its sectarian differences with Tehran — which is probably why Iran and its allies in Syria and Iraq are not among the 34 Muslim nations.
Moreover, the first ever Islamic coalition also appears to be PR stunt by Saudi Arabia, which has recently come under fire from human rights organizations for alleged war crimes in Yemen as well as other human rights abuses such as execution of political prisoners without proper trial.
Nearly 6,000 people — half of them civilians — have died in Yemen since the Saudi-led military operation began against Houthi rebels in March. The conflict has been described as “catastrophic” by the United Nations, with 80 percent of the population in need of aid. But, despite all that, Saudi Arabia has brazenly continued its airstrikes.
Considering the utter lack of planning and intrinsic sectarianism, it appears the first international Muslim bloc is, for now, a mere distraction provided by a country struggling to prove itself as an important political force against terrorism.