Monthly Archives: April 2015

Yemen: nemesis for Pakistan?

Cross Post from Pakistan Today published 7th April 2015

Yasmeen Aftab AliArticleYAA

Let me recount some facts here and some opinions. The concluding analysis will become self-evident. If Pakistan still acts the foolish clown, it will deserve to fall flat on its face and smash its nose.

Usually, Saudi Arab has dealt with ‘unsuitable governances’ through a remote control. Yemen is an exception. Houthis, controlling Northern Yemen are trained and equipped by the Hezbollah reportedly, have their strings pulled by Iran. Al-Monitor says, “Their biggest takeover was of the Yemeni port city of Hodeida and the shoreline toward the southwest coast of Saudi Arabia and the Ras Isa marine terminal. This takeover is of great strategic importance. For the first time, Iran has a foothold in the southern gate of the Red Sea, literally on the Bab El-Mandab Strait, which separates Asia from Africa. The western coast of Yemen is also adjacent to the western coast of Saudi Arabia, with all its strategic facilities, posing a double threat: to freedom of movement in the straits and to Saudi security.”(December 11, 2014) This scenario has pushed Israel towards Saudi Arab owing to the desire to curb Iranian action. Egypt supports Arab action owing to Bab el-Mandeb Straits that is seen as a threat to her economy. Is this really about a ‘bitter battle for the oil route at Bab El-Mandab’as claimed by Ahmed Mohamed Nasser Ahmed, a Yemeni political analyst and former member of Yemen’s National Issues and Transitional Justice Working Group at the National Dialogue Conference. (MintPress  April 2, 2015) The fact is that the masses are frustrated in Yemen. However, Lieutenant General (Retd) Talat Masud rightly points out, “Iran is backing the Houthis which are strong enough to overthrow the Yemen regime but do not enjoy enough support to rule the whole country. This, now, is the real challenge of the region, where foreign intervention, armed insurgencies or popular movements are capable of removing tyrants, but the vacuum that follows creates other monsters.” (April 1, 2015)

In the middle of this crisis came the breakthrough of Iran nuclear deal. This will lead eventually to more than $110 billion dollars a year in sanctions relief. This will not happen overnight. It may take months to happen. Iran’s reintroduction in oil markets and financial systems cannot be viewed with approval by Israel- yet another reason for pushing her in Saudi Arab’s camp over the Yemini issue.

This is a mess, anyway you look at it and Pakistan; owing to its closeness with Saudi Arab is right in the middle of this, like it or not. Hilary Synnott, in her book “Transforming Pakistan: Ways Out of Instability” traces the relationship between Saudi Arab and Pakistan way back to 1969 when pilots from Pakistan had piloted Saudi jets aimed at repulsing Yemeni  ingress in Saudi Arabia. Over time, closeness between both nations has deepened. Signing of Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline was a smart move by former President Asif Ali Zardari in 2013 in an effort to bring some degree of balance in the relationship of Pakistan between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  In year, 2014 Saudi Arab lent a mammoth $1.5 billion to “shore up Pakistan’s foreign reserves.” Also 750 to 800 Pakistani servicemen are believed to be in Saudi Arabia but none were combat troops, a Pakistani official told Reuters.” (Al-Arabiya April 1, 2015)  Arif Rafiq in his piece in Foreign Policy reminds us, “Pakistan received a grant of $1.5 billion — described by the Pakistani finance minister as “gift” with no strings attached.” (April 1, 2015)

A statement that turned out to be fallacious as there is nothing as a free lunch in the world.

Pakistan Saudi Arab relationship notwithstanding, Pakistan must step back and view this situation emerging in Yemen with complete dispassion. “Pakistan shares a 565-mile-long border with Iran and relations between the two countries have long been rocky. If Iran starts to view Pakistan as an active adversary, it has many opportunities to cause trouble across the border that Sharif cannot afford.” (FP April 1, 2015) Can Pakistan afford active confrontation with Iran at this point in time or can Iran afford the same? The answer is no to both. However, should Pakistan be foolish enough to send its forces into Yemen this may prompt Iran to use the Afghanistan border to create instability within Pakistan’s borders.

In determining its position, Pakistan will do well to balance out the new relationship dynamics between Iran and USA that promises to lead to an increased convergence between Iran-US and India in the region. The regional dynamics are changing. Remaining neutral in this conflict will be next to impossible for Pakistan given the outlined relationship above and this is just the tip of the iceberg. It boils down to the question of not whether Pakistan will get embroiled but how.  Prime Minister Nawaz has called for a joint session of Parliament. (04 April 2015 SHAFAQNA PAKISTAN) In this joint session, the extent of Pakistan’s involvement will be discussed. Pakistan’s Parliament needs to understand that the Huothis are not attacking Saudi Arab. There is nothing on ground to indicate they have the ability to do so. Why then the furor that the Holy Places are under threat? General Mirza Aslam Beg former COAS Pakistan in his mailed article titled “Causes and Consequences of Yemen Conflict” states, “At the moment, the threat to Saudi Arabia, is real, which is mainly from within. The Saudi Wahabi dissidents, numbering over 10,000 are the second largest component of ISIS in Syria/Iraq. Their only mission is to overthrow the Saudi monarchy. The southern region of Saudi Arabia is also vulnerable to Yemeni militants. There is no military threat to Saudi Arabia as such, nor there is a threat to the House of God.”

Manzar Qureshi, a UK based analyst says, “With fast diminishing western and USA’s global dominance, economically, politically and militarily, the world has become multi- polar and it’s beyond US and western powers to keep a control. It’s about time to have a new charter which guarantees world peace, justice and development and do away with the colonial regimes that are used as instrument for the perpetuation of neo-colonialism.”

Pakistan must coordinate with the GCC countries and work towards diffusing the Yemini situation. Turkey having jumped into the fray may well be a part of the effort. Any other nation that can positively contribute towards settlement of the inflamed situation should be readily welcomed on board. Diplomatic support is the best support Pakistan can offer in light of a dangerous geopolitical situation and her own Shia-Sunni divided population. Pakistan must convince Iran to stop supporting Houthis in Yemen. There is one possible way to achieve this. To use Yemen as a bargaining chip vis a vis Syria. This may be difficult to achieve but not impossible. All stakeholders must be on board on this. If US and Iran can achieve a breakthrough in the nuclear talks, so can Saudi Arab and Iran on Yemen. The challenge for both countries will be to bring on board their hardliners. Tough but not impossible.

Let there be no doubts that any foolish and misguided decision by Pakistan to get involved militarily on Yemeni soil will have a severe backlash in the country against the government and even the Army. ‘The government will also face opposition on the issue from PPP, PTI, ANP, MQM, JUI-F and even JI. The question is already being asked if the prime minister can put the lives of Pakistani soldiers in jeopardy to repay favors done to him by Saudi royalty.’ (Editorial Pakistan Today MARCH 29, 2015)  The Parliament must deliberate keeping in view long-term interests. Pakistan’s interests.

The writer is Author of, “A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.” She may be reached at yasmeenali62@gmail.com and  tweets at: @yasmeen_9

 

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Marching with Summer Soldiers

Cross post from Pakistan Today March 30, 2015

ArticleYAABy: Yasmeen Aftab Ali

 

With the building up of the American Revolution, the ranks of the Continental Army were bloated by the joining of “Summer Soldiers” as coined by Thomas Paine. The farmers and other non- professionals who would join up but would either return to their lands for harvesting season to attend to more important pursuits, or disappear in dead of biting winter nights.

The fact that media dropped the bombshell that Pakistan was examining Saudi Arabia’s request to join the Gulf-led operation against Shia Houthi militias in Yemen made one do a double-take. Reuters said, “Gulf broadcaster al-Arabiya TV reported that the kingdom was contributing as many as 150,000 troops and 100 warplanes to the operations and that allies Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan were ready to take part in a ground offensive in Yemen.” A knee-jerk reaction by the Pakistani government that led to a furious debate on social media and the drawing room politicians. Fortunately, saner heads prevailed, but not before exposing the autocratic manner in which the decision was taken or contemplated to the complete exclusion of the Parliament.

My first concern was that the overlooking of parliament in the final analysis of whether or not to support the Summer Soldiers in Yemen. This was strange. Remember, how we debated and debated, and debated some more and continued debating the decision to hold talks and later to have military strikes against terrorists within our borders? Here we were; in sublime oblivion to our ground problems of terrorism, ignoring the very real danger of an angry Iran leading to a further escalation of ongoing proxy war in Pakistan, and the danger of engaging Pakistan Army on too many fronts diluting the thrust against terrorism on home ground.

To jolt the memories here, Pakistani Parliament had opposed in 2012, drone attacks by America in its air strikes A Parliamentary Commission had demanded that these strikes in the territory of Pakistan must end. Parliament and Parliament alone must determine whether or not Pakistani troops are to be out sourced. Owing to the gravity of the decision, the Parliamentary debate on the subject must be public with coverage by media. As a friend wrote, “Parliament is the best defense for such tricky situations.  One can even wriggle out of personal considerations in favor of national interests.”

Beware you Sunshine Patriots, of opening a pit full of worms. The lid will not be put back so easily, if at all. Just as the misdirected policy under Zia is exacting a price today, that is frightening.  Recall the words of Thomas Paine, “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country.” The Sunshine Patriots here are the supporters of the revolution. They supported the revolution while it went well yet shrank away, taking with them their support once things started going awry.

This is not about air strikes alone.  That is probably not the solution to Yemen’s problems. Joyce Karam, a Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper in her piece in Al-Arabiya states, “While the Yemen intervention will need key components such as tribal support and a multifaceted socioeconomic strategy that goes beyond airstrikes to succeed, it ushers a new era on how GCC responds to threats as well as a more independent framework for its relations with the United States.” I could not agree with her more.

Saudi Arab shares a border with Yemen, running roughly 1,800 km give or take. Iran’s supporting of the Houtis and training of their militants had sent alarm bells ringing. The unflinchingly inflexible stance of the Houtis, threats to invade Mecca among other actions has forced many countries to form an alliance against the Houtis. Obama has supported Saudi Arabia, the statement by NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on the situation in Yemen says, “The United States coordinates closely with Saudi Arabia and our GCC partners on issues related to their security and our shared interests.  In support of GCC actions to defend against Houthi violence, President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC-led military operations.  While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support. At the same time, the United States continues to closely monitor terrorist threats posed by al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and will continue to take action as necessary to disrupt continuing, imminent threats to the United States and our citizens.”

The question here is not whether or not Saudi Arab or Iran is justified in carrying out their fun games. The question is of Pakistan’s ability to take on the additional burden of opening yet another front. No matter what the opinion of the sunshine supporters here, this is a dumb and foolhardy step to contemplate. Lest we forget, ‘Western intelligence agencies consider AQAP the most dangerous branch of al-Qaeda because of its technical expertise and global reach. The US has been carrying out operations, including drone strikes, against AQAP in Yemen with President Hadi’s co-operation, but the Houthis’ advance has meant the US campaign has been scaled back.’  (BBC News March 27, 2015)

David Model, in his paper titled, “Welcoming the Summer Soldier and Sunshine Patriot: Suppressing Dissent in America,” quotes John Adams, who “warned us about the dangers of tyranny even in a democracy when he uttered the words: “The Jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arms always stretched out if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.”  (02 January 2011)

Pakistan has her plate full of its share of problems. Home grown terrorism, sponsored terrorism, an untenable border between her and Afghanistan, a hostile neighbor, Army engaged in a war within its borders that needs to be fought with single minded focus. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Then there are the practical considerations: does Pakistan has the surplus troops to send to Yemen? Can we undertake this venture when at war on our own home ground? It was therefore with a huge sigh of relief that many read Khawaja Asif’s statement that Pakistan will not participate in a conflict that divides Muslim Ummah. In addition to it came another positive statement that, ‘Pakistan ready to facilitate end termination of conflicts in Islamic world with a pragmatic view that involvement in conflict could aggravate fault-lines in Pakistan.’ Clearly, an imitate danger of Pak boots on ground stands averted.  People of Pakistan of course support the rational wisdom displayed by the government. As a deeply troubled friend F. M Endrabi wrote to me before Khawaja Asif made the government stance clear, “It seems to be a big war theatre. On one side we have India, on another side Afghanistan, and now may be Iran too…with an ongoing war against terrorism within Pakistan.”

Pakistan government’s duty stands to ensure protection and/or extradition of Pakistanis from a volatile Yemen and heed the appeal of stranded Pakistanis. This must be seen to be the Pakistan government’s foremost duty in Yemen. Besides extraditing them, the Pakistani Consulate must co ordinate with Pakistanis stranded in homes, buildings and other points to safely return to their homeland. Then there is the question of jailed Pakistanis reportedly being threatened by local prisoners according to a local TV channel. How will their security be ensured?

To quote the exact words of Thomas Paine, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”The Crisis.

 

The writer is Author of, “A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.” She may be reached at yasmeenali62@gmail.com and  tweets at: @yasmeen_9