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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Terrorism sponsorship: Qatar and others

The tiny but oil and gas-rich state of Qatar was last week caught in the vortex of a bitter Arab diplomatic row with its neighbours who resolved on its isolation, citing alleged involvement in the sponsorship of terrorist groups.

Curious as this action may seem, the crisis in the Persian Gulf, however, offers the world an opportune moment to take a more critical and broader look at the policy of state sponsorship of terrorism and how to tackle the evil ideology globally.

Qatar’s support for Islamist terrorism is known worldwide. It is said that the country with 2.6 million people, 313,000 Qatari citizens and 2.3 million expatriates, is the banker to the world of terror – Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, Hamas, Boko Haram and many more. Specifically for Nigeria, it was revealed in the British Parliament that a tribal elder in northern Cameroon who ran a car import business in Qatar had become one of the main intermediaries between kidnappers from Boko Haram and its offshoot, Ansaru, helping them with weapons and ideological training.

In a move spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, other Arab countries comprising Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Bahrain cut off land, sea and air transport links with Qatar, leaving the tiny peninsula completely stranded. For a country that depends on land imports for 40 per cent of its food needs, being cut off by its neighbours has been very devastating. But this has been one good example of the effectiveness of a collective diplomatic action against a targeted nation.

Besides what could rightly be termed economic and diplomatic blockade, the Arab states have also given Qatari citizens living in any of the five territories two weeks to quit, while diplomats had 48 hours to return home. At the centre of the spat is the allegation that Qatar, arguably the richest country in the world because of its oil and gas reserves and a very small population, is not only harbouring pro-Iran ties but is also promoting anti-Saudi militias such as Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The Saudi authorities believe Qatar uses its powerful, state-sponsored news channel, Al Jazeera, to promote “the message and schemes of these groups…constantly.”

Caught in the whirlwind of the usually fast-paced and unpredictable politics of the Middle East, Qatar has tried to fight back by denying the allegations and claiming that its rising profile is actually the reason why its neighbours are moving against it. Apart from winning the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the first Arab state to win such a right, Qatar has the highest GDP per capita in the world. A BBC report puts Qatar’s GDP per capita in 2016 at $129,700. The country’s Sovereign Wealth Fund is also estimated by Bloomberg at $335 billion, amassed from its liquefied natural gas sales within the last 12 years.

With some of the countries stipulating a jail term of up to 15 years for anyone expressing sympathy in whatever form for Qatar, the country must really be feeling the impact of the isolation and in need of help from whatever source. Unfortunately, the United States, which has an important military base with 10,000 troops in the peninsula, has turned its back on Qatar. The American President, Donald Trump, has even been claiming credit for the blockade. So the country now depends on Iran for daily food supply.

There is also the belief that Qatar could be just a pawn in the chess game between the dominant contending powers in the region, namely Iran and Saudi Arabia. While Qatar remains an integral part of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a political and economic alliance of six states, it also fraternises with Iran, an arch enemy and rival of Saudi Arabia. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are not only opposed to each other politically, they are also sharply divided along religious lines, belonging to the Sunni and Shiite divides of Islam respectively. Making reference to terrorism sponsorship could, therefore, be seen by keen observers of events in the region as a convenient way of punishing Qatar for being in a cosy relationship with Iran.

Amid an unprecedented escalation of global terrorism in recent years, it is heartening to see some states take it upon themselves to tackle the evil and its promoters. But it is also pertinent to find out other countries that are engaged in similar activities, including Saudi Arabia, and find a way to make the world safer by confronting them collectively. Terrorist groups are said to “raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources, often during the Hajj and Ramadan.” For instance, Saudi Arabia has been accused of funding the building of mosques in Mali and Nigeria that preach a highly intolerant version of Islam. This provides theological legitimacy for the actions of terror groups, enabling them to attract recruits and funds. It had also been accused in the past, of harbouring some of such extremist groups. There are also reports of groups being sponsored in Syria by the Saudis who are designated as terror groups by others.

Generally, there should be effective ways of monitoring the sponsorship of terror groups, which have become a serious threat to global peace. The world should move against such a country or group irrespective of its status. Besides, in dealing with Qatar, America and the Gulf States should know the limits of isolation and ensure that they do not drive an important ally in the war against terror finally into an enemy camp.

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