Regional Ownership

After the loss of Spain (loss of a foothold in Western Europe) in 1492 the decline of the political power of Islam started. However, with the rise of Ottoman Empire as a dominant European power and reconquest of India by Babur, Islam rebounded albeit for a limited period, after their victories both in August 1526 one is at Mohacs in Hungary and the other in Panipat, India.

The real decline started at the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century. The defeat of Ottoman Empire by combined European powers in 1683 before Vienna and the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 in India can be considered as the beginning of European superiority in the world and particularly in the Islamic lands.

Here it is also pertinent to note that two great states of the Islamic world Ottoman Empire and Iran although ruled by ethnically the same dynasties, or may be because of it, were constantly at war with each other while their countries were being carved up as zones of influence and losing territory to non-Muslims.

While this was happening in the western part of the Islamic world, the main Eastern part of the world of Islam, Indian subcontinent was being directly conquered starting from 1754 with the connivance and/or aid of local rulers.

Bernard Lewis, eminent Middle East historian, in his book “The End of Modern History in the Middle East” starts modern period of the region with the conquest of Egypt by Napoleon. We might agree or disagree with all his views but the observation he makes following this event has been valid for the last 200 years and is, at least partially, still valid. I quote:

Bonaparte invaded and conquered Egypt and stayed there until he was forced to leave by a squadron of the Royal Navy commanded by Admiral Horatio Nelson…, which demonstrated two important facts: even a small western force could conquer, occupy and rule one of these heartlands without serious difficulty and that only another western force could get them out (p.1).

Although at this point he fails to mention the Turkish defense of the fortress of Acre,which trapped French forces in Egypt stopping their advance and preparing the ground for possible Turkish reinforcements from Anatolia, his observation as proved by later events remains valid, and not only for Middle East, but for other historically inhabited areas of the world. To give one example,Tipu Sultan of Mysore,resisting East India Company Forces,first seeks the aid of Sultan in Istanbul as the Caliph and a fellow Muslim after receiving empty words in return from the Sultan as an ally of the British, then helplessly tries to get French help, as a powerful European state, as the only effective resort.

Western domination of the lands of Islam started to decline only after two world wars that took place mainly between European alliances and powers. Although it was never their intention, clashes among Europeans provided the Muslims with breathing space and finally liberation from their direct rule and influence.

However, even now not only world politics, but regional politics that directly concern Muslims are still dominated by extra-regional powers. One undeniable reason for that is, when it comes to employment of military power and exertion of political and economic power, we as individual Muslim countries lack the resources and the means and on many occasions the will.
If we attribute this to economic weakness only due to exploitation by the west, how do we explain the rise of China which was subjected to harsher treatment?

It would be wiser to seek the answer not only in the external factors but also in our own defects.Our societies are not strong enough to stand challenges that are on many occasions divided and on the other occasions totally subject to foreign domination.

When we look at the external trade of many of our countries we see that we exchange more goods with states that are far away than with our neighbors.Moreover the terms of trade are determined by these far away states not by us.

Politically, we simply cannot live without creating new problems with our neighbors. If we find it difficult or impossible to create new problems we do our utmost to revive old long buried discords. Most of the trouble spots, sources of tension are either in the Islamic lands or adjacent to the territories of Muslim states and most of them are from the rivalry, animosity, differing conceived interests of variousMuslim groups.

But instead of trying to resolve our differences among ourselves we resort to outside intervention which gives them the primary say in the solution of our problems. When outside powers come up with the solutions that satisfy their own needs more than ours, we complain.

How do we remedy this situation? The answer is through regional cooperation which should be built on regional ownership. How do we attain regional ownership? Through more understanding towards each other and solidarity inspired by long term interests, rather than petty quarrels and daily short-sighted benefits.
Reiterating the importance of regional cooperation, the country leaders and think-tank organizations should pay closer attention to step-by-step and practical approaches towards enhancing regional security in the domains such as politics, energy and economics. Here, let me illustrate my point by some observations pertaining to our South Asian region.

a)      When we discuss political security in the region we have to take into consideration certain facts:
-        Political boundaries do not correspond to ethnic boundaries;
-        On the other hand, crimes are transnational;
-        Thus, response to them should be coordinated;
-        Regional actors prefer confrontation to cooperation.

b)      Energy security:
-        While some countries are energy-poor, energy resources are abundant in other neighboring countries;
-        The enormous hydro energy resources of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are not utilized, the utilization of these resources might contribute substantially to the satisfaction of the energy needs of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
-        The gas resources of Iran and Turkmenistan can meet substantial part of the needs of Pakistan and India, provided that pipelines are built.

c)      Economic security:
-        Low bilateral and intra-regional trade volume;
-        Low level of utilization of bilateral complementarities;
-        Negative terms of trade.

The above-mentioned negative and positive components of regional dynamics when taken into consideration properly in devising policies would give us the opportunity of enhancing regional security and well-being mainly based on the utilization of regional resources and opportunities.

Therefore, our main tasks as think tanks of the Islamic countries should be to diagnose, analyze the source of discord and suggest ideas that would contribute to their resolution and leading to cooperation rather than confrontation. We should encourage regional cooperation to maintain security and increase our welfare. Only than we can contribute to stability and welfare not only on a regional level but also in a global context.

The Turkic Council where I served as the first Secretary General is a functioning example of regional cooperation. We cooperate in the fields ranging from, transport to tourism, education etc.

We also have affiliated organizations such as the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic Speaking Countries (TURKPA), the International Organization of Turkic Culture (TURKSOY), the Turkic Academy, the Turkic Culture and Heritage Foundation.
Although it brings together a particular group of countries, the organization does not take an exclusive approach. On the contrary, by promoting deeper relations and solidarity among Turkic speaking states, it aims to serve as a new regional instrument for advancing international cooperation in Eurasian continent, particularly in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Finally, when we return again to what think tanks should do we can say that their primary task is to predict development that could affect our well-being and security. When doing that we should, instead of vague statements, try to give straight answers to the permanent question “so what” for the use of all our leaders.

( Ambassador (R) Halil Akıncı, Advisor to Chairman of Turkic World Council & First Secretary General of the Turkic Council | Opening Speech | 6th Think Tanks Forum of the Islamic Countries | 7th March 2015, Islamabad )

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