Pakistan and the Yemen Conflict

This is not an inter-State clash. There is no imminent threat to the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia. Let’s call a spade a spade, especially if it is a dirty, rotten, gutter cleaning spade. This is a sectarian conflict between the two largest sects of Muslims; Shias and Sunnis. This is not a battle between good and evil. There are no heroes in this war, only villains and victims. This is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran . While Saudi Arabia has only recently come out in the open with regard to its support to Yemeni government, Iran continues to deny it’s support to the Houthis.

The Shia-Sunni conflict is not novel. It was probably the first tactic that shot to the heads of Islamophobs when deciding how to neutralize the threat a united Muslim world could pose. Yes, it was a conspiracy to divide, neuter and rule. But instead of blaming the conspirators, dividers and inciters, we need to reflect on why it is so easy to divide, incite and conspire against Muslims.

The Yemen crisis has almost blown out into a Muslim world war, with a coalition force of around ten Muslim states mounting an offensive against Houthi rebels in Yemen on one side, and a still somewhat covert support to the Houthi forces from Iran. The United States of course is a non-Muslim party to the conflict, but that participation may be attributed to its uncontrollable attraction to conflicts and wars, especially if either or both sides to the conflict are Muslims.

The Yemeni sinkhole conflict has already pulled Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Iran and Saudi Arabia in to its dark depths. One country, however, strolls at the edges. Pakistan has yet to decide what role it will play in this Muslim world war. The government – which only seems able to give statements – has said that they have not yet taken a decision to send troops to Saudi Arabia or consequently Yemen. It has also been iterated that the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia will be protected at all costs. This second part of the statement is wise, too wise to have come from this government, and it’s not a secret where seemingly wise statements and policies are coming from.

It is common perception that this is now Saudi Arabia’s war. The leaders of the ruling party; PMLN, were rescued by Saudis after the 1999 Musharraf coup, through a long denied but ultimately admitted deal. Saudis babysat and pampered them through their political exile. Leaders of PMLN and some other political parties also have personal financial interests in Saudi Arabia. How the political leadership is itching to run to the Saudi whistle is imaginable. But Saudis are not asking for politicians, they are asking for the Army. Rumor has it that the Army chief decides what the Army does, in practice of course. Apparently now the Army chief also decides what politicians do, but that is just hearsay. Although his advice does seem to fall on very attentive ears attached to some very obedient bodies.

Political leaders have repeatedly asked for an all parties conference (APC) – something that has become a norm, bypassing a democratically elected Parliament – to decide Pakistan’s role in the Yemen conflict. But has the decision already been taken by the “decision takers”? Have the “boots” decided to not offer boots on Yemeni grounds? The statement read out – not given – by the Defense Minister to protect Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity at all costs, is meaningful. It says we will protect your borders for you, but we will not invade any borders for you. The statement is wise and so is the decision.

Pakistan should not be an ally in any offensive against Yemen’s territory. Not just because Yemen too is a friendly State, or because Pakistan cannot afford to be a part of another conflict, but also because participation in an overt international Shia-Sunni conflict may fuel sectarian violence on our own soil. Internationally, this sectarian rift is bound to grow deeper as a result of this clash. It is thus best to stay out of it and work for a peaceful mediation between parties. Having said that, our decades old strong religious and economic ties with Saudi Arabia also need to be catered for. It is to honor those ties that Pakistan has ensured the Saudis of full support in case of any aggression aimed at its borders.

It is times like these which will make us cherish the prevailing democratic coup in Pakistan. While a handful of political decision takers and policy makers play with their, sort of make believe, APCs, sessions and one on ones, the decisions are being taken elsewhere in a forum seemingly more far sighted and free from individual and personal interests. This however is, of course, just hearsay.

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