US-backed plan of Muslim mediation in the Middle East shows bleak prospects

A new trend of the world politics took shape last week. The trend is possibly a disguise concealing America’s deliberate and well-thought-out efforts aimed at building a broad coalition of Muslim states to address the treat of Islamists. On the face of it, the U.S. does not seem to put pressure on Arab states that could be involved in the formation of such a coalition. By comparison with other similar initiatives of a kind, Arab states are still playing a secondary or even less important role in the coalition.

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan made a short trip to Indonesia last week. Commentators were somewhat surprised to learn of Musharraf’s visit to Jakarta. President Musharraf and his Indonesian counterpart, the president of the world’s most densely populated Muslim country, discussed issues pertaining to possibilities of intensifying efforts of the Muslim countries in resolving most serious crises in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, in particular.

We should not overlook Palestine’s highly symbolic importance for the Muslim world. A Muslim country wishing to play a major role in the process of settlement of the longstanding Mideastern conflict is likely to have excellent chances of becoming an unofficial leader for the Muslims of the whole world. All in all, there are three plans of the “Muslim settlement” at the moment. The first plan rests on extremism and basically calls for a joint effort of all the Arabs to defeat Israel. Iran is a principal advocate of the plan. The second plan has been very moderate and rather ineffectual, by and large. The plan is primarily supported by Saudi Arabia, which recently increased its political activity in the region. Egypt supports the plan too though to a lesser extent. Thus far the U.S.-backed efforts of Saudi Arabia and Egypt have ended in failure partly because the two are seen as America’s allies by the Muslim world.

These days a third plan appears to be waiting in the wings. It implies mediation efforts taken by Muslim countries which are located far away from the conflict area, those that have never been involved in hostilities or active cooperation with the Jewish state. The plan’s disadvantages are obvious. Being rather influential players at today’s international scene, Indonesia and Pakistan are unlikely to forgo their ambitions in favor of another state should it be chosen a leading mediator. Prior to holding talks with President Musharraf, the Indonesian government unveiled plans for hosting an unprecedented conference of ulamas in order to work out some “common Muslim” principles of settlement of international crises.

It is understood that the meeting between the Indonesian and Pakistani presidents clearly projects onto the domestic policy pursued by both countries. Incidentally, President Mushrraf left for Malaysia to discuss similar issues following his visit to Indonesia.

In general, President Yudhoyono of Indonesia is quite popular with his citizens. However, some of the Indonesian generals, both the retired and active ones, have recently lashed at the president. The brass feel apparently unhappy about the shrinking of their influence on the establishment in today’s Indonesia. In the meantime, President Yudhoyono seems to be set to win more support of the public by laying emphasis on the role of Islam in his policies.

President Musharraf of Pakistan has to tackle a more difficult problem. A parliamentary election in Pakistan is slated for the end of this year, and a presidential election is planned to take place early next year. Therefore, President Musharraf needs to prove that he is a true Muslim who is not always willing to do America’s bidding. As a matter of fact, his latest trip to Indonesia can be interpreted in the context of U.S.-Pakistan cooperation. Shortly before President Masharrraf flew to Indonesia, U.S. President Bush was to have met with Benazir Bhutto, the leader of Pakistan’s opposition movement. However, the meeting was canceled at a moment’s notice.

The U.S. seems to have taken a more cautious approach to pledging its support for democratic changes over the last several years. In case of the U.S., supporting democracy can frequently hinder the implementation of important foreign policy projects.


Translated by Guerman Grachev

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov