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 and  tweets at: @yasmeen_9


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