M Ziauddin

Monday, April 13, 2015 – LAST Friday’s unanimous resolution passed by Parliament’s joint session advising Pakistan to remain neutral in the Yemen imbroglio appears to have not gone well with the Saudi-led anti-Yemeni Houthis front. The United Arab Emirate’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash has warned Pakistan of having to pay a ‘heavy price’ for taking what he called an ‘ambiguous stand’.

“The vague and contradictory stands of Pakistan and Turkey are an absolute proof that Arab security — from Libya to Yemen — is the responsibility of none but Arab countries,” Gargash added.

“The Arabian Gulf is in a dangerous confrontation, its strategic security is on the edge, and the moment of truth distinguishes between the real ally and the ally of media and statements,” Gargash tweeted moments after the Pakistani parliament passed the resolution insisting on neutrality in the Yemen conflict.

Gargash went to symbolize Pakistan’s resolution as equivalent of siding up with Iran instead of the Gulf. “Tehran seems to be more important to Islamabad and Ankara than the Gulf countries,” Gargash said.

Perhaps perturbed by this unusually harsh reaction from one of the countries involved in the conflict on the side of Saudi Arabia, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan telephoned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Both the leaders reportedly stressed, clearly to appease the seemingly infuriated Arab coalition, that Houthis didn’t have any right to overthrow alegitimate government in Yemen and re-affirmed that any violation of the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia would evoke a strong reaction from both the countries.

The Yemen situation has really become too complex. The US has stopped sending drones to Yemen targeting Al Qaeda’s sanctuaries. Instead it has started helping the Arab coalition with intelligence and logistics since the start of the Yemen war. This is said to be a mere sop to mollify Saudi Arabia which is vehemently opposed to the framework deal signed between Washington and Tehran on the latter’s nuclear programme. The US clearly does not want to be seen supporting the Kingdom at a time when its negotiations with Iran are fast approaching their culmination.

With Shiite majority Iraq and Syria close by on its two flanks the Saudi Kingdom understandably does not want to be seen being besieged by Shiite regimes from all sides, therefore justifiably wants to save Yemen from falling into the hands of Shiite Houties. Therefore, the Yemen war. More so because of Iran’s growing influence in Iraq and Syria that too at a time when the world is almost poised to lift all the economic sanctions imposed against Iran to punish it for taking the nuclear weapons’ path which the Saudis fear would enable Iran to challenge its leadership status in the Arab as well as Muslim world.

This seemingly sectarian colour of the conflict is perhaps the main reason why no Arab country wants to jump into the Yemen fray on the side of the either Saudi Arabia or Iran. However, Tehran insists that it is not backing the Houthies who it further insists belongs to a Shiite school of thought which Iranis do not subscribe to. Even Egypt which is obliged to the Arab world in more ways than Pakistan also seems to prefer extending moral support rather than ground troops and fighter aircrafts.

All the 10 Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia, on their own, do not have the capacity to invade Yemen. Put together they do perhaps have one of the largest arsenals of the most sophisticated and most modern weapon systems in the world but they do not possess enough properly trained troops for entering Yemen and defeating the rebels. And they know bombing from air alone is not going to yield the kind of result they desire.

Interestingly, things appear to have whirled in circles so fast on the Yemen front that all concerned seemed to have missed the forest because of the trees. Yemen is fast becoming a formidable hub of Al-Qaeda and the Daesh both of which are on the wanted list of the US, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, the GCC countries and all other Muslim and non -Muslimcountries of the world. So, instead of continuing the in-fighting it would be better all- around if all parties concerned join hands and take the Yemen case to the UN and get a unanimous resolution from the General Assembly to send UN troops into Yemen to enforce immediate ceasefire to be followed by installation of a broad-based government in Sana.

Refusing Saudi Arabia’s request for military support for its Yemen campaign must have been a very tough call for Pakistan. But Islamabad has called correctly and wisely despite the moral and emotional pressures. And there is a heavy economic pressure as well. About three million Pakistanis are working in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. On more than one occasion we have received generous financial assistance from Saudi Kingdom. And Riyadh has been a dependable customer of our light weight arms. And our troops and pilots have served in Saudi Arabia on a number of occasions and even at this very moment there are said to one thousand-strong contingent of Pakistani troops stationed at strategic points in Saudi Arabia plus about 700 military advisors.

What is reassuring is the identity of views on the matter of getting involved in the Yemen war between the civilian governmentand the Army. The resolution passed on Friday by a joint session of parliament has asked the government to play a mediatory role. Islamabad has already started working on the advice. The interactions between Islamabad and Ankara and Islamabad and Tehran on the one hand and Ankara and Tehran on the other in quick succession have thrown up a number of proposals the most important of them all being approaching the UN Security Council as well as the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC). Playing its mediatory role Pakistan has conveyed to the visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Javed Zarif Saudi Arabia’s serious concerns about Tehran’s alleged backing of Yemeni Houthi rebels, who have overthrown the ‘legitimate’ governmentof President Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh. The Iranians, in response have proposed getting all sides to agree on immediate ceasefire, provision of humanitarian assistance to Yemenis trapped in conflict, initiation of an intra-Yemen dialogue and formation of a broad-based government. But the UN proposal seems to be the best and the safest bet.

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