M Ziauddin

Thursday, April 02, 2015 – IN more than one way Saudi Arabia has served as our psychological and moral strategic depth all these years. And on occasions the Kingdom has played a domestic political role as well.

In the first Afghan war the KSA’s spiritual as well as monetary and manpower assistance had underpinned Pakistan’s own efforts in aiding and assisting the Afghan Mujahideen.

Next, when severe economic sanctions were imposed on us as a punishment for testing our nuclear bombs, it was the House of Saud that saved us from complete economic collapse mostly by supplying oil on deferred payment.

And in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the ensuing civil war there it was again the KSA that made it possible for us to cope with the situation which further degenerated into total chaos when an isolationist-cum- fundamentalist Islamic party calling itself the Taliban took over the reins in Kabul.

And above all, we are also doubly grateful to KSA for hosting as many as over two million Pakistani workers. The remittancethat the overseas Pakistanis working in the Middle East countries send to Pakistan annually serves as a vital financial prop to our not-so-strong an economy.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is also personally obliged to the KSA for providing him and his close family sanctuary following his negotiated exile from Pakistan after having been handed down life sentence by courts in a made up case of hijacking.

Last year the KSA ‘gifted’ Pakistan $1.5 billion to save the rupee from taking a nosedive.

If such a country is in dire need of help and sends urgent requests for assistance, you simply cannot say ‘no’. Still, it is not so simple to say ‘yes’ as well.

In the first place, we are already at war against our own terror self since at least last June. Both ground troops and air force are carrying out campaigns on daily basis all over the country. And in view of India’s provocative posturing lately, it does not seem prudent to leave the working boundary as well as the LoC unattended.

And the war itself? What is it about? Well, a small tribe of North Yemen—Houthis— has rebelled against the legitimate government in Sana forcing the country’s elected president to flee to Saudi Arabia and request the Kingdom for help restore him. A former Yemeni president has joined the rebels with the national Army splitting between the former and current presidents.

The rebels have almost run over the country reaching the Bab-el-Mandeb in deep south which acts as a strategic link between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea via the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. Millions of barrels of oil pass through thestrait daily.

It is perhaps mostly the fear of Bab-el-Mandeb falling to the rebels that seems to have provoked the Saudis to take precipitate military action.

Saudis perhaps fear that if the Bab-el-Mandeb fell to the Houthis they would be able to hold hostage the Kingdom’s oil transport.

On the face of it, the Houthis do not appear to be in a position, in view of their numerical limitations and their limited fire-power, to hold for long the ground that they have ‘conquered’. So, once the guns go silent, it is more than probable that they would vacate the ground for a price.

But meanwhile, the Saudi Kingdom in its own self- interest is trying to color the conflict with the red of sectarianism which the Saudis think would appeal to the Sunni Arab states already feeling the heat from Shiite Iran dominated Iraq, Syria and theLebanese Hezbollah. Moreover, the Saudis are not happy over the on-going negotiations between Iran and the US on the nuclear issue. A settlement on the issue, the Saudis fear, would enable Iran to make the bomb eventually.

Lately Saudi Arabia became world’s biggest importer of weapons and defensive systems. Together with itsneighbor, United Arab Emirates, both countries imported $8.6 billion of weapons in 2014– more than the whole of Western Europe combined.

The trend is expected to continue and in 2015 one out of every seven dollars spent globally on arms imports will be spent by Saudi Arabia. And by the end of the current year the Saudi arms purchases are expected to reach $9.8 billion.

However, since more than half of Saudi Army is of Yemen origin and many of them being intimately involved through their families in Yemen, the Saudis, it is believed do not feel safe with their own Amy personnel handling these arms. Neither does it trust the Armies of other Arab states. So, KSA’s insistence that Pakistan, which it trusts more than its own, join the Yemen campaign.

Not that Pakistan has never sent its troops to safeguard the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia. A brigade of Pakistani troops was stationed in KSA during the ten-year long war between Ian and Iraq in the 1980s. Again we sent a brigade to Saudi Arabia when Iraq invaded Kuwait in the early 1990s.

Also, at the moment there are over 700 Pakistani military advisers in Saudi Arabia and a big military contingent is also participating in joint military exercises.

But wars once begun take their own course, more often than not ending with consequences totally opposite to the goals set to be achieved first place.

Moreover, it is always prudent to stay away from other peoples’ wars. And above all the pros and cons of joining a war which is opposed by an important neighbour need to be weighed before taking a decision one way or the other.

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